PARIS — While Bernard Arnault has uneasy relations with France’s Socialist government and left-leaning media, the British monarchy is smiling upon France’s richest and most formidable business titan.
On Friday, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said the Queen had approved an honorary award that will make Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
The Commonwealth Office, the body that advises the Queen on knighthoods to foreign nationals, said Arnault would get the award for “services to business and the wider community in the U.K.” He will be entitled to put the initials KBE after his name, but not to be called Sir.
The British award should be a balm to Arnault, who was criticized in France when he revealed last month that he had applied for Belgian citizenship, citing numerous personal and business ties to the country. Daily newspaper Libération published a front-page photo of the executive under the headline “Casse-toi riche con!” — whose most polite translation is “Get Lost Rich Idiot!”
Arnault is seeking amends for public insult and the tribunal correctionnel, a criminal or penal court, on Friday confirmed it has fixed a date of Oct. 4, 2013, to hear the case.
Arnault’s Belgian application came just as French President François Hollande confirmed he would impose a 75 percent tax rate on incomes of more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million at current exchange. In a televised interview to discuss the controversial measure, Hollande chastised Arnault for not being patriotic enough.
The recognition in Britain also dovetails with the pro-business stance of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who told a business summit last June that he would “roll out the red carpet” to wealthy French citizens and firms who wanted to move out and pay their taxes in Britain.
Arnault has said he “is and will remain” a fiscal resident of France, where he has been honored extensively. He was named a Grand Officer of the French Legion of Honor in 2011, four years after receiving the title of Commander of the French Legion of Honor.
One source said the timing of the British honor is coincidental, as the nomination process would have been initiated about a year ago.
LVMH owns the Scottish whiskey brand Glenmorangie and British shirtmaker Thomas Pink, and its De Beers joint venture is based in London. The French luxury group operates about 100 stores in the U.K., and employs some 3,000 people. LVMH is parent of brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Donna Karan and Guerlain.
The French group sponsored a 500-seat lecture theater at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, and it has an ongoing scholarship program there. It also underwrites an arts education project in London, and regularly sponsors exhibitions at such institutions as the Royal Academy of Art, Hayward Gallery and the British Museum.
The award could be bestowed in London, or at the British Embassy in Paris by the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, at a time agreed upon by the embassy and Arnault’s office.
Bill Gates, Placido Domingo, Bob Hope, Rudy Giuliani and Steven Spielberg are among foreign nationals who have received the honorary distinction.
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