Brussels: Bernard Arnault, the richest man in France and the world’s fourth-wealthiest, confirmed reports Saturday that he was seeking Belgian nationality as Paris moves to impose a 75 per cent wealth tax.
But the 63-year-old billionaire head of the LVMH luxury goods empire denied he planned to be a tax exile and said he would also keep his French citizenship.
The Belgian daily La Libre Belgique earlier quoted Georges Dallemagne, the head of the Belgian parliament’s naturalisation commission, as saying that Arnault’s application would be treated the same as all the others.”
“We currently have 47,000 before us,” he told the paper.
Belgian legislation requires applicants for citizenship to have had at least three years residency in Belgium, barring which they need to prove ties to the country, Dallemagne said.
Arnault lives in Paris and has a home in Brussels, the daily said.
“Contrary to the reports published today, Mr Bernard Arnault states that he is and will remain a French tax resident,” a statement put out by Arnault’s press office said.
“If he obtains dual French-Belgian nationality it would not change this position, nor his determination to pursue the development of the LVMH group and the creation of jobs in France which this engenders.”
The statement said Arnault’s move was linked to plans for his own private Groupe Arnault “to expand its numerous activities in Belgium.”
“Mr Arnault, who is from northern France, has many personal and family ties with Belgium as well as on the professional front,” it added.
His application comes amid a debate on one of the main pledges that France’s President Francois Hollande made during the election campaign earlier this year - to impose a 75-percent tax on incomes above one million euros.
Press reports this week said that the government was looking to water down the measure by raising the threshold to two million euros for couples and excluding capital gains.
But on Friday Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici vowed that the campaign promise would be “strictly” implemented.
The new tax is due to be included in the 2013 budget, which the government expects to finalise later this month.
Arnault, whose fortune is estimated to stand at 41 billion dollars by Forbes magazine, was a close ally of France’s former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Following the election of France’s previous Socialist president Francois Mitterrand in 1981, Arnault lived in the United States for three years, returning to France after the Socialists switched to a more conservative economic course.