Bernard Arnault: The Frenchman who has everything - except Belgian citizenship

Fashion boss’ controversial application rejected


However limited the roll call of famous Belgians, the country does not give away its citizenship to any old multibillionaire.

An application for Belgian citizenship by Europe’s wealthiest man, Bernard Arnault, the boss of the luxury goods giant Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton (LVMH), has been rebuffed by civil servants in Brussels. A final decision is expected in the spring  but, according to the Belgian press,  Mr Arnault’s application is likely to  be rejected.

Mr Arnault – the world’s fourth-richest man, with an estimated worldwide fortune of $41bn – moved from Paris to Brussels a year ago. He  insists that, unlike the actor Gérard Depardieu, he has not fled into exile from the high income and wealth taxes in France.

He merely wishes to become a Belgian. Under the existing rules, would-be new Belgians must have lived in the country for three years whether they are penniless Turks or French multibillionaires.

The national agency which deals with naturalisation requests, L’Office des Etrangers, has concluded that there is no reason to make an exception for Mr Arnault.

Belgium is notoriously fussy about the people it allows to become Belgians. Eight years ago, it rejected  a naturalisation request from the veteran French rock star Johnny Hallyday, even though his father was a Belgian.

Last weekend, Mr Depardieu, France’s most celebrated actor, announced that he had given up  his French citizenship after he was criticised by the government for moving into tax exile in Néchin, a village situated just north of the Franco-Belgian border. The Belgian government said yesterday, however, that it had received no naturalisation request from Mr Depardieu.

More than 500 French citizens – mostly very wealthy – are waiting to hear if they can become Belgians. Applications have increased by 10 per cent since the Socialist François Hollande won the French presidential election in May with, inter alia, a promise to increase income tax to 75 per cent on earnings of more than €1m.

It emerged today that another French billionaire, Alain Afflelou, the creator of a cut-price opticians’ chain, intends to move to London. He said this was to develop new business opportunities and not to avoid French taxes.

Mr Arnault and Mr Depardieu need not despair entirely. A new Belgian citizenship law takes effect next month. In future, ordinary mortals will have to live in Belgium for at least five years before they can apply for a passport. The waiting period will be waived for people with “exceptional merit” judged to have a bona fide link with Belgium.

Mr Arnault had hoped  that the Belgian subsidiaries of his LVMH empire would weigh in his favour. Belgian newspapers pointed out yesterday, however, that a formal legal investigation has just begun into some of LVMH’s business dealings north of the French border.

Why Belgium?

Why the sudden French desire to be Belgian? It’s not just the beer, chocolate and moules frites: under existing tax agreements, French citizens who move north qualify for the less onerous Belgian tax regime whether they are Belgian or not. But Paris has indicated it wants to renegotiate this agreement, so a Belgian passport may rapidly become a valuable commodity.

The Belgian government suspects there may be an ulterior motive for wealthy French people’s new-found love of rain-drenched Belgium. Under a 1960s agreement, French residents of tax-free Monaco have to pay French taxes. Not so the Belgians...

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Grange Retirement Home: Full Time Care Team Manager

£22,400: The Grange Retirement Home: This is a key role which requires a sound...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada