Profile: Bernard Arnault, France’s fickle billionaire

Thirty years of fleeing the French.

The year was 1981 and François Mitterrand had just been elected the first socialist French President in 23 years. His "110 Propositions for France" included some long suppressed socialist party policies: nationalisation, increased minimum wage and a 39 hour week. But of more concern to Bernard Arnault, who’s family owned a construction and property company out of Roubaix, was the L'impôt de solidarité sur la fortune – the solidarity wealth tax.    

Did Arnault stick around to pay his taxes? Not at all. Taking the family cash (then about 40m francs), he fled to Florida and spent the next three years buying up Palm Beach condominiums.  He only returned to France years later to buy Christian Dior and LVMH in 1987. 

With another socialist government in power, why are the French media so enraged that Arnault is planning to do it again? Filling headlines with obscenities and untranslatable swear words is not going to stop a man who for over thirty years has fled French wealth taxes. The only question that remains is whether he follows France’s second richest family, the Mulliezs’, to Belgium or goes to Britain where he has already been welcomed by the Queen with a KBE. Wherever he goes there are sure to be many billionaires that follow.

Bernard Arnault. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.