PARIS (AFP) – Authorities in the Belgian municipality of Estaimpuis made their most famous resident, Gerard Depardieu, an honorary citizen on Saturday ahead of a housewarming barbecue the French actor is due to host.
"We are pleased that you have made Nechin your home," local official Daniel Senesael said, referring to the village where Depardieu bought a house last year, before praising the film star for staying true to himself.
"Gerard, Estaimpuis loves you," he said at the ceremony held at a 12th-century chateau.
Depardieu plans to hold a giant barbecue for 200, including his new neighbours, to celebrate moving into the house in Nechin, near the border with France.
Local butcher Marc Vens, who is catering the party, told the RTL-TV1 network that T-bone steaks and suckling pig were on the menu.
Around a quarter of the residents of Nechin, part of the Estampuis municipality, are French and usually wealthy, attracted to the spot by Belgium's more generous tax laws.
Depardieu, 64, stirred up controversy when he decided to take up residency across the border after the Socialist government sought to impose a 75 percent tax rate on annual incomes over one million euros ($1.3 million).
After buying the house in Nechin, Depardieu was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin. The move was criticised, as were his friendships with Putin and Chechnya's strongman leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The veteran actor told France's Figaro magazine on Friday that the controversy had been "a big misunderstanding" and that he still loved France.
"I am a free man. I feel at home everywhere in Europe."
"This whole story is a big misunderstanding," he said, adding: "I love France as much as ever. It's my country.""
Hailed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, Depardieu starred in films including "Cyrano de Bergerac" and the "Asterix & Obelix" series and also owns a number of businesses including vineyards.
But in recent years Depardieu has also become known for his off-screen antics.
He landed a fine earlier this year for drink-driving and in 2011 generated global headlines when he tried to urinate in a bottle aboard a plane as it prepared to take off from Paris for Dublin.