NEWS
Depardieu skips court to prep for Strauss-Kahn role
Depardieu skips court to prep for Strauss-Kahn role

By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - French film star Gerard Depardieu failed to show up in court to face drink driving charges on Tuesday as he pursued a headline-grabbing world tour that has seen him set up an alleged tax haven home in Belgium and pick up a passport in Russia.

The garrulous actor's lawyer said he had missed the hearing in Paris because he was now in Montenegro, holding meetings over a film in which he will play disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The no-show means the case will turn into a full trial - guaranteeing yet another day in the spotlight for Depardieu who is already caught up in a public row with French authorities over his tax status.

It could also lead to the 64-year-old star of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Asterix and Obelix" getting a tougher sentence if convicted - in theory up to two years in prison.

"Despite wanting to be there and meet the judges and in no way to escape justice, Gerard Depardieu absolutely could not be present," his lawyer Eric de Caumont told a scrum of reporters outside the Paris courtroom on Tuesday.

He said his client was in Montenegro negotiating a deal for an upcoming film in which he would play Strauss-Kahn, who was seen as the next Socialist president of France before a U.S. sex scandal bought down his career last year.

A day earlier on Monday, Depardieu celebrated at a FIFA awards ceremony in Zurich.

Depardieu is accused of crashing his scooter in Paris with more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. No one else was injured in the accident.

The actor did not have to attend the hearing. But many defendants have used similar pre-trial sessions to strike a bargain with prosecutors and accept a lighter sentence in exchange for acknowledging guilt.

Depardieu hit the headlines last month after he bought a house over the border in Belgium, spurring accusations he was trying to dodge a proposed new tax on millionaires.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the move "pathetic" and unpatriotic.

Last week, Depardieu accepted a Russian passport, provoking even fiercer charges that he had abandoned his homeland.

Russia has a flat income tax rate of 13 percent, compared to the 75 percent on income over 1 million euros ($1.32 million) that President Francois Hollande wants to levy in France.

Depardieu on Monday denied he was leaving France for tax reasons.

"I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably have dual Belgian nationality. But if I'd wanted to escape the taxman, as the French press say, I would have done it a long time ago," he said.

Depardieu is a larger-than-life and outspoken figure who began his long career playing thugs and drop-outs before moving on to leading-man roles in films like the romantic comedy "Green Card".

A few months before the scooter incident, a car driver accused Depardieu of assault and battery during an altercation in Paris. Last year, the actor outraged passengers on an Air France flight by urinating into a bottle in the aisle.

(Additional Reporting by Thierry Leveque.; Editing by Mark John and Andrew Heavens)

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