PARIS (AP) -- Actor Gerard Depardieu denied in an interview aired Monday that he accepted a Russian passport to escape the taxman in France, and said that while he may also seek Belgian nationality, he is still French.
Depardieu's first public remarks since acquiring a Russian passport on Saturday suggest that his threat last month to turn in his French passport was a bluff, or the indignant reaction of a wounded man.
"I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably have dual Belgian nationality," he said in the interview with the sports channel L'Equipe21. "But if I'd wanted to escape the taxman, as the French press says, I would have done it a long time ago."
Depardieu, 64, is one of France's best known actors, has appeared in more than 150 films and has an international following. He has been at the center of a heated debate over tax exiles as France's Socialist government looks to fill state coffers with a hefty tax on the rich. Depardieu drew scorn and insults with his recent decision to move to neighboring Belgium, where taxes are less steep for the well-off.
After Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called him "pathetic" and "unpatriotic," Depardieu penned an open letter in mid-December saying he was handing in his passport and social security card. Then, over the weekend, Depardieu showed up in Russia to accept a passport delivered personally by President Vladimir Putin.
Depardieu spoke to the sports channel from Zurich, Switzerland, on the sidelines of a soccer awards ceremony. Referring to tax exiles, Depardieu said that some high-profile rich in the entertainment industry had left France two decades ago.
Depardieu has a court date Tuesday in Paris, where he is expected to agree to a plea bargain in a case of alleged drunken driving. The burly actor was arrested after falling off his motorcycle in November and failing a sobriety test.
Elisabeth Depardieu, the actor's ex-wife, said in an interview on Monday with RTL radio that her former spouse is by nature very emotional.
"When he feels refused, he becomes provocative," she said. "Should we throw stones? He is a monument. He is a poet."