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IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MIGHT NOT BE BELGIUM: Weary of the polemic that has raged around his loyalties and his staggering fortune, Bernard Arnault has withdrawn his application for Belgian citizenship.
The chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton made that revelation in an interview published in French daily Le Monde on Wednesday. Arnault requested an audience with the paper to squelch lingering speculation he was seeking to escape France’s notoriously high taxes.
This story first appeared in the April 11, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In an article flagged above the fold with a portrait of a smiling Arnault, the business titan confessed that he underestimated the impact of a citizenship switch. It was a quest initiated, he insisted, to protect his Belgian interests and LVMH’s in the case of his death. While reiterating he would remain a fiscal resident of France, “the message didn’t go through,” he lamented, characterizing his latest move as “a gesture of my attachment to France and my faith in its future.”
He noted that LVMH companies pay annual French taxes totaling close to 1 billion euros, or $1.31 billion, even though the group generates 90 percent of its revenues outside the country. “Concerning myself, I won’t tell you how much how much I pay personally in taxes, but believe me, it’s a lot,” he said.
Arnault acknowledged that his shares in LVMH — which account for the bulk of his fortune, the biggest in France — have been transferred to a Belgian foundation, but that it has no impact on the taxes the group must pay in France, nor on inheritance taxes that would come due when the time comes.
The executive lamented that in France, whether under a leftist or right-leaning government, entrepreneurs are looked upon dimly. “In Germany, the U.K. or the United States, one condemns poverty in order to fight it, while in France, we condemn wealth,” he told the paper.
When Arnault’s application for a Belgian passport came to light last September, French President François Hollande chastised him for not being patriotic enough, and newspaper Libération ran a front-page photo of Arnault with a headline whose most polite translation is “Get Lost Rich Idiot.”
Quizzed by Le Monde about Hollande’s 75 percent tax on incomes over 1 million euros, or $1.3 million, he said it wouldn’t bring much to the state, and that the focus should be battling unemployment.