Who’s playing who in the great French tax debate? Heavyweight French actor Gerard Depardieu has raised eyebrows after threatening to take up a Russian passport to avoid what he sees as onerous tax rates in his native France. In a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Depardieu claimed, “I love your country, Russia, your people, your history, your writers. I like to make films here . . . I adore your culture, your way of thinking . . .”
President Putin has said the passport is there for Depardieu “if he wants it.” Depardieu has said he wants to take up the offer even before the new higher tax rates are law in France. For smiling President Putin, what better way to encourage off-shore Russians that Moscow is safe and friendly to high net-worth investors?
Before playing his part in this PR love-fest, Depardieu might want to ponder why, despite having a flat tax rate of only 13 per cent, wealthy Russians continue to ship their money to offshore centers. Parking money offshore has been a consistent concern of both Russian tax authorities and millionaires alike. Could it be that Putin needs an endorsement to show his wealth-friendly credentials?
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Gerard Depardieu and his partnership with President Putin. The actor might want to read the fine print.
THE PR TAKEWAY: In PR, it’s easy to be played. Gerard Depardieu seems to be happily ignoring the acres of press coverage concerning Russian government corruption, its politicized bureaucracy, and it’s notorious vindictiveness – not to mention clamp downs on artisitic freedom (ever heard of Pussy Riot, Gerard?). As wealthy Russians continue to seek safer havens, Depardieu might want to wonder why Putin’s PR people are happy to have him so publicly running in the opposite direction of Russia’s oligarchs. It’s easy to understand what Putin sees in this PR opportunity, but for Depardieu, it’s not so clear. Before jumping on the endorsement bandwagon, it might have been more sensible to look around for alternative tax jurisdictions. Singapore, anyone?