Depardieu ready to appear before court

2013-01-09 09:16
Paris - French star Gerard Depardieu, who skipped out on a Paris drunk driving court appearance on Tuesday, said he is ready to appear before the tribunal "when they want".

"I fled neither from the court, nor from justice," Depardieu told reporters after meeting with Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

A police official denied rumours to AFP that Depardieu was seeking Montenegran citizenship.

Depardieu said that the "trip to Montenegro had already been planned".

Prison sentence

"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.

The Asterix & Obelix star had already pleaded guilty to driving his scooter while intoxicated and would have escaped with a small fine and penalty points on his driving licence.

But now, having failed to show up for sentencing, Depardieu faces a criminal court hearing that could lead to a fine of €4 500 euros and a prison sentence of up to two years.

The 64-year-old, 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.

Depardieu, who owns several vineyards, attended one of football's top award ceremonies, the Ballon d'Or, in Switzerland on Monday, after a weekend in Russia where President Vladimir Putin hugged him and he was given a Russian passport.

'Citizen of the world'

Taking Russian nationality was the latest volley in an often farcical row between Depardieu and the cash-strapped French Socialist government over its bid to raise the tax rate on earnings of over €1m to 75%.

In a surreal twist to the saga, veteran animal rights campaigner and cinema legend Brigitte Bardot said last week that she would also take Russian nationality unless authorities intervened to save a pair of ailing elephants.

Speaking on television on Monday from Zurich, Depardieu insisted he was still French.

"I have a Russian passport, but I am French and will certainly have dual Belgian citizenship," he said, claiming to be a "citizen of the world".

Hailed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, with scores of films to his name, Depardieu has in recent years become as famous for his erratic behaviour as for his acting talents.

In August, he punched a car driver who had forced him to swerve on his scooter, and in 2011 he generated global headlines after urinating in a bottle on a plane as it prepared to take off from Paris for Dublin.