Published: 07 Jan 2013 11:43 GMT+01:00 | Print version
Updated: 07 Jan 2013 11:43 GMT+01:00
French actor Gérard Depardieu, fresh from a rapturous welcome in Russia, flew to Switzerland to attend the Ballon D'Or, one of football's top award ceremonies, on Monday.
A day after receiving a Russian passport, having vowed to quit France over a tax row, Depardieu was to attend the event on Monday evening, FIFA spokesman
Alex Stone confirmed.
Depardieu flew out of the central Russian region of Mordovia Sunday evening, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the office of the governor.
During his visit to the region's capital of Saransk, he was greeted by folk dancers and handed traditional blini pancakes, as the governor invited him to set up home in the region, best known for its network of prison camps.
Russian television pictures showed him waving his new red passport after being granted citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, who has called the actor a close friend.
Putin also enjoys good relations with FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Russia is to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 after a campaign that was led by Putin himself.
Depardieu is an avid football fan who was a goalkeeper for Chateauroux in his youth and remains a fervent supporter of the Auxerre team.
He visited FIFA's headquarters in Zurich in mid-October to meet Blatter and it was the FIFA chief who invited him to attend Monday's ceremony.
Together with other celebrities, the 64-year-old actor will watch one of three finalists — Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina's Lionel Messi or Spain's Andres Iniesta — walk off with the prestigious award.
Following the festivities, however, Depardieu will need to return to Paris, where he is due in court Tuesday on drunk driving charges.
He was arrested in the French capital in November after falling off his scooter, which he had been riding while more than three times over the legal alcohol limit.
No one was injured and, having admitted the offence, he is expected to escape with a fine and penalty points on his driving licence.
Depardieu threatened to renounce his French citizenship after French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded him pathetic for announcing plans to become a tax exile to avoid paying a 75-percent tax rate (on taxable income over one million euros).
In what some pundits have described as a publicity stunt, the Kremlin seized the opportunity to offer him citizenship and the chance to pay a flat tax rate of 13 percent if he lives in Russia for more than half the year.
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