French actor Depardieu in Russia to get new passport - media

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By Gabriela Baczynska | January 6, 2013 3:42 AM EST

French film star Gerard Depardieu has arrived in Russia to receive a new Russian passport after a public spat in his homeland over his efforts to avoid a new 75 percent income tax, local media said on Saturday.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Russian citizenship to Depardieu, a popular figure in Russia who objected to the new tax on millionaires planned by France's socialist government.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president would hold a private meeting with Depardieu in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday evening.

"It is not ruled out that during this meeting Depardieu will be granted a passport," RIA news agency quoted Peskov as saying.

Putin, a former KGB spy who recently hailed a friendly personal relationship with Depardieu, has been in Sochi for Russia's long New Year's holidays ending on January 9.

Depardieu has appeared in many advertising campaigns in Russia, including for ketchup, and worked there in 2011 on a film about the eccentric Russian monk Grigory Rasputin.

Depardieu, star of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Green Card", was also among the Western celebrities invited in 2012 to celebrate the birthday of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader.

Putin granted Russian citizenship to Depardieu shortly after announcing in December his own efforts to prevent Russians from keeping their money offshore.

But since the Cold War, Moscow has often expressed support for Westerners at odds with their governments - a way to counter what Putin says is hypocritical Western criticism of the Kremlin's treatment of its own citizens.

Putin, accused by the opposition at home of cracking down on his critics, has in the past spoken of good ties with France.

DISPUTES

But Moscow suffered a blow in November when it was forced to suspend its bid to build an Orthodox church with five domes in the heart of Paris, whose mayor called the plan "ostentatious".

Russia has a flat-rate income tax of 13 percent compared to 75 percent on income over 1 million euros ($1.32 million) that French President Francois Hollande wants to introduce. Depardieu has bought a house in Belgium to establish Belgian residency in protest at Hollande's tax plans.

Hollande's original proposal was struck down by France's Constitutional Court in December, but the socialist president pledged to press ahead with a redrafted tax on the wealthy.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called Depardieu's decision to seek Belgian residency "pathetic" and unpatriotic, prompting an angry reply from the actor.

The theme continued to dominate French media on Saturday with the left-leaning Liberation newspaper running a front-page picture of Depardieu dressed as Rasputin with a caption saying: "Depardieu between Putin and Rasputin".

The conservative Le Figaro has also described a telephone conversation between Depardieu and Hollande on New Year's Day as covering the celebrity's tax exile, politics and poetry. Hollande's office confirmed the two men had spoken.

A spokesman for Depardieu in Paris could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Rosalind Russell/Mark Heinrich)

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