‘Pianist’ producer faces charges

Rywin accused of soliciting $17.5 mil bribe

WARSAW — The Oscar ceremony should have been the greatest night of his career. But while his movie “The Pianist” was winning three statuettes, he was blocked from traveling to the U.S. by legal troubles that threaten to ruin him.

No, not Roman Polanski, but his exec producer, Lew Rywin, who is mired in the biggest political corruption scandal in recent Polish history.

Rywin is accused of soliciting a $17.5 million bribe on behalf of the government from opposition newspaper group Agora, in return for a relaxation of media ownership rules to allow Agora to buy private TV web Polsat.

Agora’s own newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, blew the whistle in December, several months after Rywin allegedly made the approach. Two separate investigations — one by the Warsaw prosecutor and one by a parliamentary committee — are under way, in the full glare of the national media, which has predictably dubbed the affair “Rywin-gate.”

Some pundits believe the scandal could bring down the government. There’s no doubt Rywin made the offer — the key meeting was taped by Agora execs — but it’s unclear who, if anyone, authorized him. Prime Minister Leszek Miller denies doing so. Rywin proclaims his innocence, but refuses to testify further. If found guilty of “paid protection,” he faces three years in jail.

But he’s already being punished. He cannot leave Poland, and his Heritage Films, the country’s leading production outfit, has suspended all its projects, including the next pic from Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda, because it cannot raise any money. Rywin has been forced to resign as head of the supervisory board of Canal Plus in Poland and of the Polish Tennis Assn.

He is being shunned by fellow producers, who voted overwhelmingly not to invite him to attend the country’s recent Eagle Awards, where “The Pianist” swept.

It’s a huge fall from grace for the country’s best known and most successful producer, whose credits include numerous international co-productions — among them “Schindler’s List,” Taylor Hackford’s “Proof of Life” and Volker Schlondorff’s “The Ogre” — as well as Polish blockbusters such as Wajda’s “Pan Tadeuz” and Marek Brodzki’s “Wiedmin.”

Indeed, Rywin has been such a central figure in the Polish film revival of the past few years that some in the industry are predicting his downfall could trigger a domino effect of collapsing production and unemployment.

“I cannot arrange funding, today Polish TV will not enter a co-production agreement with Heritage Films and a bank loan is out of the question,” Rywin says. He is seeking to place his scripts with other producers, just to insure they get made.

For now, he plans to offer his services as a co-producer to foreign filmmakers, using the experienced English-speaking crew that worked with the likes of Spielberg and Polanski. “I hope to clear myself of these accusations and go back to making my own films,” he says.

Meanwhile, he has one movie in the can — “Pornografia” by helmer Jan Jakub Kolski, which has been submitted for consideration by the Cannes Film Festival. But one thing’s for certain: Until Rywin clears his name, there’s little chance he will be allowed to make the trip to the Cote d’Azur in May.

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