Gauls maul fallen stars

Khalifa scandal snares thesps

Revered as national institutions in their native France, Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu have fallen a few notches in Gallic esteem recently.

Their alleged sin? Taking wads of cash to appear at events hosted by an Algerian billionaire who fled the country while under investigation, without telling the taxman.

French financial police have quizzed the two over sums they received for attending the Cannes launch of Rafik Khalifa’s short-lived TV channel, Khalifa TV, in 2002. Deneuve said she received e40,000 ($52,000).

Others on Khalifa’s star-studded guest list included Pamela Anderson, Naomi Campbell, Sting, Andrea Bocelli, Bono and Melanie Griffith.

The two Gallic film stars told police they were paid similar sums to attend a soccer match between Marseilles and Algeria’s national squad in the billionaire’s company in February 2002.

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The thesps’ police grilling has been part of a wider investigation into the rapid rise and fall of Khalifa’s business empire, which included a bank, an airline company and the channel.

The company went bankrupt in 2003 and Khalifa fled to London. Involved in an array of business ventures ranging from French wine to Cuban oil, Depardieu’s enthusiasm for moneymaking schemes is well documented.

But Deneuve was another matter.

“Catherine Deneuve probably hasn’t changed, but our image of her has,” Le Monde opined Jan. 20. “She was distant and adorable. We’ve discovered her to be self-interested and venal.”