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Russian Opposition Party Says 'Depardieu Candidacy' A Bad Joke

A Russian opposition party has rejected claims that French actor Gerard Depardieu is running as its candidate for governor of a Siberian region, dismissing the allegation as an "unfortunate joke."

Russian opposition party RPR-Parnas is no newcomer to the country's ruthless political scene.

This week, however, the party founded by slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has been fending off rather unusual allegations. According to Russian media reports, RPR-Parnas wants French firebrand actor Gerard Depardieu to run as its candidate in upcoming elections for governor of the Omsk region, in Siberia.

Adding to the embarrassment, the claims allegedly stem from one of the party's own members, the head of its Omsk regional office, Igor Basov.

"We know about this from open sources. We are now checking this information," said Ilya Yashin, a party co-leader. "We didn't take this seriously; it's an unfortunate joke either from our own activists or from people seeking to discredit them."

Yashin added that "there is and cannot be any official decision" to put forward Depardieu -- who took Russian citizenship in 2013 to avoid paying higher taxes in France -- as its candidate in Omsk.

Konstantin Merzlikin, also a RPR-Parnas co-leader, had another explanation.

"Maybe it's some kind of trolling, a reaction to the system governing nominations in gubernatorial elections, which allows the elimination of all undesirable candidates through the municipal filter," he said.

Basov's purported statements appeared on June 29 in the respected Kommersant daily.

"As a Russian citizen he must get better acquainted with our country's political system," Basov was quoted as saying to the newspaper. "He's not just an actor; he has his own business. He has experience running a business on the international arena. This is a man who could really bring investments to the Omsk region."

According to Kommersant, Basov said he had already sent a letter to Depardieu in which he extended the offer to run in the September 13 election.

Basov reportedly said he intends to name Depardieu as RPR-Parnas's candidate for the race even if the actor fails to respond.

While he has not publicly voiced any ambitions to enter Russia's political fray, Depardieu, 66, has repeatedly professed his love for the country since President Vladimir Putin signed an order to grant him a Russian passport two years ago.

He has appeared frequently alongside Putin, starred in a Russian sitcom called Zaitsev+1, worked with Swiss luxury watchmaker Cvstos on a line called Proud To Be Russian, and accepted an apartment in Grozny from Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.

Depardieu, however, officially resides in the Belgium city of Nechin.

Last month, he reportedly said he was "ready to die for Russia," praising Russians' strength and vowing not to "die a fool in modern-day France."

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