Bardot to leave France unless sick elephants spared

AFP-JIJI

Cinema legend Brigitte Bardot on Friday threatened to follow actor Gerard Depardieu out of France unless two elephants under threat of being put down are granted a reprieve.

In a surreal twist to the saga over Depardieu’s move into tax exile, the veteran animal rights campaigner said she will emulate his request for Russian nationality unless authorities intervene to save Baby and Nepal.

The two elephants face being put down because they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis and are deemed a threat to the health of other animals and also to visitors at the Tete d’Or Zoo in Lyon.

Authorities in the city ordered the elephants be put to sleep last month, prompting an outcry that resulted in them being granted a temporary reprieve over Christmas.

Bardot said in a statement she will leave France if the reprieve is not made permanent.

“If the powers that be have the cowardice and the shamelessness to kill Baby and Nepal . . . I have decided to take Russian nationality and quit this country that is nothing more an animal cemetery,” Bardot said.

Bardot, 78, has been a high-profile supporter of Depardieu in his spat with the French government over his decision to take up residence in neighboring Belgium for tax reasons.

She said last month that her fellow actor, who was branded “pathetic” by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, has been the “victim of extremely unfair persecution.”

Bardot’s latest outburst came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Depardieu citizenship, prompting the actor to declare his love for the Russian leader and the country’s “great democracy.”

That provoked reactions ranging from slightly bewildered pride to outright derision among ordinary Russians.

“He is impressed by our democracy — he has completely lost his marbles,” wrote Vladimir Sokolov, one Facebook user.

Zoya Alexeyevna, an 80-year-old strolling in central Moscow in fur coat and hat, was more welcoming.

“Depardieu, we really love him and of course we are proud of the fact that he chose our country,” she said. “There are a lot of great people in Russia already but if we get one more, that’s not bad.”

Depardieu’s decision to quit France came after the Socialist government that came to power last year announced plans to tax incomes over €1 million ($1.3 million) per year at 75 percent and to increase the inheritance and wealth taxes faced by extremely rich people.

The measures threaten to hit Depardieu hard. The star of Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card and the Asterix and Obelix series, can easily command up to €2 million ($2.6 million) per film and has extensive business interests in France and elsewhere.

If he opts to spend over half the year in Russia, the actor could pay tax there on his worldwide income at a rate of just 13 percent.

But few expect that to happen. The 64-year-old, who was spotted Thursday at his Paris address, has acquired a residence in the Belgian village of Nechin, already home to some of France’s wealthiest business figures.

Nechin is just a 10-minute drive from the northern French city of Lille, from where it is only an hour by high-speed train to Paris.