Gerard Depardieu was presented with his new Russian passport by President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.
The pair dined at the president’s villa on Saturday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the Kremlin announced on Sunday.
Putin’s official spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said “a brief meeting between the president and Depardieu took place. On the occasion of his visit to Russia, he was handed a Russian passport,” Reuters reports.
A video of the meeting released yesterday morning showed Depardieu embracing Putin in a bear hug on his arrival at the president’s residence, said The Wall Street Journal.
The French actor renounced his citizenship after a furious row with the French government over moves to impose a 75 percent tax on residents earning more than one million euros a year, and has since triggered an ongoing national debate in France on the issue.
The row escalated after the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the Cyrano de Bergerac star “pathetic and unpatriotic,” to which Deparardieu responded with an indignant open letter.
Despite a French court eventually dismissing the tax hike as “unconstitutional” at the end of last year, the French government still intends to pursue the tax raise.
After Depardieu joked in a December interview with Le Monde about seeking Russian citizenship, Putin said publicly in an end of year press conference that “if he [Depardieu] really wants it, the matter can be considered resolved positively.”
Putin granted Russian citizenship to Depardieu in a decree on January 3.
Further details of the events that led the 64-year-old to renounce his French citizenship have also now emerged.
According to The Telegraph, Depardieu’s friend, Arnaud Frilley, recently told France’s RTL Radio that French President Francois Hollande telephoned the actor on January 1 to “understand” his decision to leave. That radio interview can be heard here.
“Gerard told him [Hollande] it wasn’t the taxes themselves that sickened him, but he was sickened by the way France spits on success. At one point he got very annoyed.”
“He also said he felt the way the media had treated him was terrible and that he needed to take a step back. But he did say that he would remain French in his heart and that he felt he was a kind of spokesman for all other successful people like him who had not spoken out.”
After Putin signed the decree granting the star Russian citizenship, the actor wrote in an another open letter, “I love your country, Russia — its people, its history, its writers. I love your culture, your intelligence.”
Depardieu, who is currently featured in a Sovietsky Bank credit card commercial, and has worked on many advertising campaigns there, also spent time in Russia in 2011 filming a movie about the eccentric monk Grigory Rasputin.
On Sunday, the actor flew to Saransk, 390 miles from Moscow, reportedly to visit a memorial to Yemelyan Pugachyov, the leader of a Cossack uprising in the 18th century who Depardieu has reportedly said he wants to play in an upcoming film.
“I am very happy, it’s very beautiful here, beautiful and soulful people live here,” Interfax quoted the actor as saying after he was met by a greeting party of young women in national costumes bearing pancakes.
It’s likely Depardieu is also attracted to Russia’s flat 13 percent income tax rate, though this rises to 30 precent if less than 183 days are spent in the country. So now that the actor has a Russian passport, it’s probably won’t be long before he settles on a Russian home.
Back in France, Reuters reports that French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he was disappointed in Depardieu, adding,”I find it a little ridiculous that for tax reasons, this man has gone into exile so far to the East.”