France's Arnault faces storm of scorn over nationality move

Mon Sep 10, 2012 1:30pm EDT
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By Nicholas Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - French Socialist leaders and other leftists accused Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, of lacking patriotism over his decision to seek Belgian nationality.

Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury empire, confirmed the move a day before President Francois Hollande gave details of a 2013 budget that includes a 75 percent supertax on top earners.

But he denied that becoming Belgian was a ploy to cut his future tax bill and cited personal and business reasons, saying he would continue to pay taxes in France.

The denial failed to blunt criticism at a time when Hollande is asking the French to bear tax rises and a freeze in public spending for the next two years.

"Get lost, you rich jerk!" said a front-page headline in the left-leaning Liberation daily, next to a picture of Arnault smiling in front of an overnight travel bag.

Arnault announced in a lawyer's statement he was suing Liberation for public insult over the headline, calling it vulgar and violent.

Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon told RTL radio that France did not need such "parasites" and Socialist lawmaker Bruno Le Roux said Arnault was "betraying France's recovery".

"When you love France, you don't leave when the weather turns bad!" Harlem Desir, national secretary of the Socialist Party, wrote in a Twitter message.   Continued...

LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault arrives for a news conference to present the group's 2010 results in Paris February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes