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French press review 9 November 2011

Tax-dodging millionaires annoy the left. A jailed Russian oligarch is the subject of a French film. How much would dropping nuclear cost France? Is the Socialist presidential candidate out of the loop on the eurozone crisis? 

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There are several billionaires on this morning's front pages.

Dossier - The Bettencourt scandal

Two of them on the front of Communist Party daily L'Humanité. The pair in question are Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of the L'Oréal cosmetics fortune, now so potty you could keep her under your bed, and her daughter Françoise, who was recently granted legal control of her mother's sponduliks.

They don't like rich people atcommunist l'Humanité. And they really don't like rich people who go squabbling through the courts in search of cash to pile on top of the cash they already have.

But what really, really makes the communists see red (if you'll pardon the expression) is the fact that, whoever has their greedy mits on the Bettencourt fortune, they don't have to pay a centime in tax. The current tax regulations for large fortunes, according to l'Humanité, mean that the 334 million euros paid by L'Oréal to the Bettencourts last year is completely free of tax.

L'Huma says that right-wing tax breaks for the rich have cost the state 2.1 billion euros and that this week's second austerity plan has done nothing to change the tax cuts for the very well-off decided last spring.

The Bettencourts are taxed at the same four per cent rate as someone earning 1,300 euros per month. They aren't likely to die of hunger, as Socialist President François Mitterrand famously pointed out to Liliane's husband, André, when André stormed into the Elysée Palace to complain about the Socialist Party's plan to tax large fortunes.

Liliane Bettencourt is now, sadly, suffering from senile dementia, but she's still probably better off than the Russian energy tycoon, Mikhaïl Khodorkovski. Mikhaïl made an awful lot of money, first by establishing Russia's first free-market bank, then by grabbing the lion's share of the federation's vast oil and gas resources.

He was once the richest 30-year-old on the planet. But Russian President Vladimir Putin really seems to have had it in for Khodorkovski.

Mikhaïl was offered the chance to toe the party line or leave Russia on a one-way ticket. He did neither. And so he found himself sentenced to eight years in jail for tax evasion. As he neared the end of that stretch, the authorities slapped another six years on him. He'll get out, all going well, sometime in 2016. His energy company, Ioukos, is now owned by the Kremlin.

And he's now the subject of a documentary film which opens this week in France.

Speaking of big numbers and the energy business, the boss of the French electricity company, EDF, is on the fornt page of Aujourd'hui en France. He says the cost of a French decision to close down all of its nuclear power stations would be 400 billion euros and that a million jobs would be put at risk.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

The Green Party recently asked Socialist presidential candidate, François Hollande, to promise that he would set a date for such a French nuclear closedown. He refused. Three-quarters of the electricity used in France comes from nuclear-powered generators.

François Hollande has other problems than a handful of angry greens. Le Monde devotes its main story to looking at the first serious difficulties in the campaign of the Socialist presidential candidate. The centrist paper says Hollande has failed to keep up with the pace of events on the eurozone crisis, and that he has been completely destabilised by President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to impose further budget cuts on an electorate already weary of hard times.

Right-wing Le Figaro says Sarkozy has benefitted from the Socialist candidate's failures, closing the gap to just seven points, even if the president, at 25.5 per cent, is still a long way from being popular.

But there's always Silvio Berlusconi, who is, according to business daily Les Echos, being pushed towards the exit by the financial markets. Silvio yesterday lost the support of his Northern League allies and has said he'll leave quietly, once the financial reforms promised to calm the nerves of the Brussels bureaucrats have been passed. That, at least, will allow Silvio more time to concentrate on his various business interests and legal difficulties.

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