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France's wealthiest man flees taxes for Belgium

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

France's wealthiest man has officially transferred his multi-billion fortune out of his native land to Belgium. The head of luxury goods group LVMH, Bernard Arnault says he has moved his assets for "family inheritance reasons." Few believe that, saying the 63-year-old Arnault has joined other celebrities trying to avoid taxes - including a whopping 75 percent top rate on income, introduced by Socialist President Francois Hollande.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Arnault applied for a Belgian passport shortly after the Socialists won elections last year. Arnault owns numerous homes around the world applied for a Belgian passport after Hollande's Socialists won presidential and parliamentary elections last year.

Critics have attacked Arnault for leaving the country that is associated with all the brands which made his fortune. These companies include such name brands as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Guerlain, Moet & Chandon champagne and Hennessy cognac.

"Bernard Arnault is running the risk of fuelling suspicion about him, harming the image of his brands and weakening the employees who give them life," Nicolas Demorand, the editor of national newspaper Liberation wrote in a recent column.

Arnault has transferred his 31 percent stake in Groupe Arnault, the family holding that controls LVMH, to Pilinvest, a Belgian firm he set up expressly for that purpose. Arnault insists he wants to keep it in the hands of his five children after he dies.
A source close to him said the structure was lawful in Belgium, but wouldn't be in France.

"He has got two obsessions - controlling his group and ensuring that it survives him," said the source.

The Belgian Office of Foreigners has suggested it might block Mr. Arnault's request for a passport, but the final decision will be taken by the Brussels parliament.

Belgium is far more lenient on taxes than France. Belgium raised an inheritance tax of three percent, as compared to 11 percent in France. There is no such "wealth tax" in Belgium either.

Arnault is also likely to be concerned by Hollande's plan to bring capital gains tax in line with income tax - effectively raising it from 19 per cent to 45 percent, and possibly to 75 percent if the Socialist President goes through with his threat to make that the top income tax rate for earnings over a million annually.

Hollywood star Gerard Depardieu likewise became another high-profile Frenchman moving his assets abroad. The star of "The Green Card" and "Cyrano de Bergerac" card obtained a Russian passport, bought a house in Belgium, and put his multi-million dollar Paris town house on the market.

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