Bernard Arnault, France's Richest Man, Seeks Belgian Passport As Country Weighs Tax Increases

Luxury group LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault leaves the Matignon Hotel in Paris after a meeting with French Prime minister Jean-Marc
Luxury group LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault leaves the Matignon Hotel in Paris after a meeting with French Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, on September 5, 2012. AFP PHOTO FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/GettyImages)

Bernard Arnault, France’s richest man, is applying for Belgian citizenship, sources confirm. The move is certainly to heighten tensions in France, as President Francois Hollande moves forward with a plan to raise taxes on his nation’s wealthiest citizens.

Arnault, 63, is the chairman of luxury goods behemoth Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) and is worth $41 billion dollars, according to Forbes, making him the fourth richest man in the world.

Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique was the first to break the news of Arnault's decision on Saturday. According to a Google translation of the article, Georges Dallemagne, chairman of naturalization committee, said "the case will be treated like any other. There are 47,000 on the table. Our committee received the request last week."

In a statement, LVMH confirmed Arnault's request, but also maintained the billionaire "is and remains" a taxpayer in France, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Business Insider reported that French paper Le Monde has already speculated openly about a possible motivation for the defection.

"The motivations of the owner of LVMH are not known, but it is more than probable that Mr. Arnault wants to enjoy the lower tax provided by Belgium," the article states.

A socialist president who took office in the midst of Europe's continuing economic crisis, France's Francoise Hollande faces an uphill battle to get his country's finances back on track.

The government is contemplating closing many of the current tax code's 500 or so loopholes, as well increasing the tax on dividends and stock options, according to The New York Times. More than 70 percent of such increases would affect the wealthiest citizens.

Worries about a potential mass exodus of the rich have been fueled in part by Hollande's campaign platform, which included a proposal to raise the marginal tax rate to 75 percent on income above €1 million per year.

While the real reason for Arnault's actions remain unclear, President Hollande can rest fairly easy. According to the Associated Press, the billionaire's passport change will not affect his tax situation. In France, taxes are determined by residency, not citizenship.