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French actor Gérard Depardieu in Russia, could get passport: media reports

In this Dec.1, 2010 file photo, French actor Gerard Depardieu gestures as he arrives for the Premiere of the movie Small World in Berlin, Germany

Gero Breloer/The Associated Press

French film star Gérard Depardieu has arrived in Russia to receive a new Russian passport after a public spat in his homeland over his efforts to avoid a proposed 75 per cent income tax, local media said on Saturday.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Russian citizenship to Mr. Depardieu, a popular figure in Russia who objected to the new tax on millionaires planned by France's socialist government.

Mr. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president would hold a private meeting with Mr. Depardieu in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday evening.

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"It is not ruled out that during this meeting Depardieu will be granted a passport," RIA news agency quoted Peskov as saying.

Putin, a former KGB spy who recently hailed a friendly personal relationship with Depardieu, has been in Sochi for Russia's long New Year's holidays ending on Jan. 9.

Mr. Depardieu has appeared in many advertising campaigns in Russia, including for ketchup, and worked there in 2011 on a film about the eccentric Russian monk Grigory Rasputin.

Mr. Depardieu, star of Cyrano de Bergerac and Green Card, was also among the Western celebrities invited in 2012 to celebrate the birthday of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader.

Mr. Putin granted Russian citizenship to Mr. Depardieu shortly after announcing in December his own efforts to prevent Russians from keeping their money offshore.

But since the Cold War, Moscow has often expressed support for Westerners at odds with their governments – a way to counter what Mr. Putin says is hypocritical Western criticism of the Kremlin's treatment of its own citizens.

Mr. Putin, accused by the opposition at home of cracking down on his critics, has in the past spoken of good ties with France.

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But Moscow suffered a blow in November when it was forced to suspend its bid to build an Orthodox church with five domes in the heart of Paris, whose mayor called the plan "ostentatious".

Russia has a flat-rate income tax of 13 per cent compared to 75 per cent on income over €1-million that French President François Hollande wants to introduce. Mr. Depardieu has bought a house in Belgium to establish Belgian residency in protest at Mr. Hollande's tax plans.

Mr. Hollande's original proposal was struck down by France's Constitutional Court in December, but the socialist president pledged to press ahead with a redrafted tax on the wealthy.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called Mr. Depardieu's decision to seek Belgian residency "pathetic" and unpatriotic, prompting an angry reply from the actor.

The theme continued to dominate French media on Saturday with the left-leaning Liberation newspaper running a front-page picture of Mr. Depardieu dressed as Rasputin with a caption saying: "Depardieu between Putin and Rasputin."

The conservative Le Figaro has also described a telephone conversation between Mr. Depardieu and Mr. Hollande on New Year's Day as covering the celebrity's tax exile, politics and poetry. Mr. Hollande's office confirmed the two men had spoken.

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A spokesman for Mr. Depardieu in Paris could not immediately be reached for comment.

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