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Profile: Bernard Arnault, France’s fickle billionaire

Thirty years of fleeing the French.

Bernard Arnault. Photograph: Getty Images

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.