MOSCOW |  Will you accept a post of culture minister in Siberia if you were Gérard Depardieu?

The French actor picked up his new Russian passport directly from President Alexander Putin and is now being wooed for the post of culture minister of a Siberian region.  The area, known as Moradavia, is notorious for its Stalin-era gulag prison camps.  It is also the same area where one of the members of the punk band Pussy Riot (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova) is presently serving a two-year sentence for reciting an anti-Putin prayer in a Russian orthodox church in February 2012.

Vladimir Volkov, the Mordavia region’s head, was quoted by RIA Novosti agency as saying: “If Mr. Depardieu desires it, he may be offered the post” after the actor’s plane touched down in the capital Saransk for a visit.  Volkov also offered the Gallic star the chance to settle in the region and choose an apartment or house to live in.  Mordovia is about 438 miles south-east of Moscow.

The Russian offer is the second Depardieu has received.  Depardieu met Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who suggested he might become a cultural ambassador for Montenegro.

The actor was a no-show in a Paris courtroom for a DUI case in order to visit Montenegro to negotiate a deal for a film in which he will play the disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (who was once seen as the next president of France until a U.S. sex scandal ended his career).

Asked if that meant he planned to become a Montenegrin citizen as well, Depardieu said: “I’m not collecting passports. If I got a Montenegrin passport, it would be without personal gain. But I’m honored by the idea that I could be a Montenegrin cultural ambassador to the world.”

Depardieu made the decision to leave France, allegedly for tax reasons, by receiving a Russian passport and then meeting President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  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’s actions have guaranteed international coverage of a high-tax policy by France’s Socialist government that has seen a stream of wealthy citizens seek exile.

It helps that Depardieu has had increasingly high-profile ties with Russia. Last October he visited the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, to celebrate the birthday of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. In 2011, he was in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region to play the lead role in the film Rasputin.

In his first comments since acquiring the Russian passport, Depardieu denied he accepted it to escape the taxman in France. He suggested that he might set up an alleged tax haven home in Belgium.

“I have a Russian passport, but I remain French and I will probably have dual Belgian nationality,” he said in the interview with the sports channel L’Equipe21. “But if I’d wanted to escape the taxman, as the French press says, I would have done it a long time ago.”

Unfortunately, Depardieu was due in court in Paris for a drink-driving offence after being stopped with more than three times the legal limit in his blood. He risks a maximum fine of 4,500 euros and a two-year prison sentence.

Although the French actor was not required to attend the pre-trial hearing, the no-show means the case will turn into a full trial. 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).

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

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.

Gerard Depardieu meets Russia's Alexander Putin | Courtesy of Reuters
Gerard Depardieu meets Russia’s Alexander Putin | Courtesy of Reuters
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