(AFP) – Jan 8, 2013
PODGORICA, Montenegro — Gerard Depardieu skipped a drink-driving court appearance in Paris to work on a film in Montenegro in which he will play Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but claimed he had told French officials he would be absent and the matter had been settled.
The "Cyrano de Bergerac", "Green Card" and "Asterix & Obelix" star, who has already pleaded guilty to driving his scooter while intoxicated, could not attend court because he was on a planned trip to Montenegro, Depardieu told reporters in Podgorica.
"I fled neither from the court, nor from justice," Depardieu said after meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
"I informed the court, I never fled.... I am ready to appear when they want, on the condition that I am there and that I can defend myself," the French star said.
But the no-show meant the hulking actor, embroiled in a bitter tax row that saw him take Russian nationality and angrily vow to quit France, risks being tried by a criminal court where he could face up to two years in jail.
The 64-year-old was in the Balkan nation to meet producers of the film in which he will play the disgraced ex-IMF boss Strauss-Kahn. A police official there told AFP that rumours he was seeking Montenegrin citizenship were false.
Depardieu has said he wants the role because he did not like Strauss-Kahn, who was tipped to be the next French president until a sordid US sex scandal ended his career, because he was "like all French people, a little arrogant".
The actor, whose highly-publicised flight into tax exile has embarrassed President Francois Hollande, was arrested in Paris in November after falling off a scooter he was riding while three times over the legal alcohol limit.
If he had turned up Tuesday in court he would have escaped with a small fine and penalty points on his licence. Now the rotund actor, whose many previous exploits include urinating in a bottle on a plane, could face criminal proceedings.
But Depardieu insisted the case has already been settled.
"The justice (system) in France and my lawyers have informed me that all is fine," he said.
He said he was not a "criminal, I've slipped with my scooter, I fell asleep, that's it.
"I had a low level of alcohol in (my) blood as I had a salad with a drop more of vinegar and it was over the limit," he said jokingly.
"This issue is settled, all is fine and I can return to France and there will be no problems."
Depardieu hit the headlines in December when he bought a house just over the border in Belgium after accusing the French Socialist government of punishing "success, creativity and talent" with allegedly excessive taxes.
That prompted Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to brand his move as "shabby and unpatriotic" -- which in turn prompted the actor to threaten to give up his French citizenship.
The saga became ever more farcical when Russian President Vladimir Putin, eyeing a potential propaganda coup, offered the star of dozens of films Russian nationality.
Depardieu leapt at the chance, travelling last weekend to get his new passport and for some hugs and a meal with the Russian strongman in his sumptuous dacha in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
He was later given a hero's welcome -- and an offer of a free apartment and the job of culture minister -- in Mordovia, a Russian region best known for its Soviet-era gulags.
In the unlikely event that he spends at least six months of the year in Russia, he would benefit from a tax rate of just 13 percent. His anger at the French government was focused on its planned 75-percent tax on millionaires.
France's top constitutional authority, the Constitutional Council, struck down the proposed new tax rate on December 29, but the government has vowed to push ahead with it.
Copyright © 2014 AFP. All rights reserved. More »