WORLD’S FOURTH-RICHEST MAN HAS FINGERS CROSSED…FOR BELGIAN CITIZENSHIP!?

[Editor's Note: The following post is by TDV contributor, Justin O'Connell]

The fourth-richest man in the world, worth $41 billion according to Forbes, is not all that savvy when it comes to picking the right nations in which to store wealth. France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, would have done himself some... or, for that matter, reading any of the freedom press available on the Internet.                                                                                                                       

In recent weeks, a report from the French daily De Morgen, saying that Arnault cannot become Belgian, topped news in both Belgium and France, as Belgian MP Georges Dallamagne cautioned the paper was merely expressing an opinion, albeit an “opinion [that] is not surprising given that we all know that Mr. Arnault has not lived in Belgium for three years,” he added.         

The paper claimed that the interior ministry’s Office for Foreigners had turned down the request on the grounds Arnault had not resided in Belgium for the required three years. But, Dallemagne riposted that this was not grounds alone to dismiss the request. For now, Dallemagne’s committee would “study the opinion” of the Office for Foreigners, but described it as solely an “administrative body.” The law in regards to the request clearly states that “in the absence of three years of residence we can grant citizenship if the applicant has ‘real links’ with Belgium,” Dallemagne added. Although Mr. Arnault has denied that his request is tax-related – namely, to avoid a proposed 75% tax on millionaires – the world’s fourth-richest man would have done better getting away ...                                                                                                           

Not only could Mr Arnault be denied Belgian citizenship, but the 75% tax rate proposed for France’s top tax bracket, introduced by Communist President Francois Hollande, has been rejected by France’s constitutional council. Raising taxes for many in France (those making one million euros and more) has been a central policy objective of Hollande.                                               

The Constitutional Council said that the new tax “failed to recognize equality before public burdens” since it was applied to individuals rather than households. So, you see, it was scantly a moral qualm. Rather the bill has not passed on a technicality of language. Likely it is, then, that a very similar bill will be passed. In fact, the court did not say that the 75 percent tax rate was too high. The income tax must simply be reshaped. Bureaucratic incompetence is the reason for the delay in passage. “The government will propose a new system that conforms to the principles laid down by the decision of the Constitutional Council,” Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault said.                                               

The new rate, practically speaking, will do nothing to raise sufficient revenues to aid the French economy, for the tax will only be levied upon 1,500 people for a temporary period of two years. But it is merely one bill among many aiming to re-craft the French tax system. The French economy is doing what any state-commanded economy would do: turn to regulation. Official figures posit output increased by a mere 0.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012 – less than the 0.2 percent previously reported and below the 0.9 percent meager growth in Britain. French unemployment has increased to 3.13 million, near the record of 3.2 million. The decision has not changed French actor Depardieu’s mind to leave...        

Since he was crazy enough to choose a next-door European nation for shelter, one can surmise that the decision won’t lead Arnault back to France either.                                                                       

And so, Arnault will have to put up with the Belgian tax authoritie... for closer scrutiny of the mogul's Brussels-based companies associated with his LVMH luxury empire. On top of that, it is not as if Arnault has benefitted comparatively from his decision to base his empire and personal life in Belgium. After all, Belgian citizens suffer one of the highest taxation rates in the EU: about 57.3% percent per single earner. The average in Europe is 44.5%. Moreover, residents of Belgium pay personal income tax on their total income from all worldwide sources on a sliding scale.      

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