Mounties unveil Cinar probe details

Firm accused of subbing US writers

MONTREAL — Canadian children’s TV producer Cinar received at least C$7.8 million ($5.4 million) in Quebec provincial tax credits for shows that were written by American scriptwriters and did not qualify as Canadian content, according to documents filed in a Quebec court by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

At the request of Heritage minister Sheila Copps, the Mounties have been investigating the Montreal-based TV company since last October.

The court documents are the first details unveiled so far by the Canuck police regarding the lengthy Cinar probe. The Mounties allege the company put Canadian names on scripts actually written by U.S. writers in order to fulfill the Canadian content requirements of the tax-credit program.

The RCMP has yet to reveal publicly how much money Cinar netted from the federal tax-credit program in the alleged scheme, as federal authorities have refused to cooperate with the police, citing tax confidentiality rules.

According to the RCMP documents, several top Cinar execs, including co-CEO Ronald Weinberg, asked former Cinar employee Thomas Lapierre to create subcontracts that would be used to pay U.S. scriptwriters.

At the same, Lapierre’s name appeared on the official credits of the shows. The series that carried Canadian names on the credits but were really penned by Americans included “Are You Afraid of the Dark,” “Chris Cross,” “The Busy World of Richard Scarry” and “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse Adventures.”

Lapierre told the Mounties that Weinberg and other Cinar execs told him to draw up subcontracts for American writers Don Rifkin and Gary Cohen for episodes of the series “Chris Cross.”

Weinberg also asked Lapierre to set up a subcontract with American writer David Ehrman for 12 episodes of the series “Richard Scarry.” In these cases, the U.S. scribes were not included in the documents filed with the Canadian funders, according to the RCMP.

Cinar execs had no comment on the allegations, and a spokesman said the company has yet to be contacted by the police.

At the same time, speculation is increasing that Cinar founders Weinberg and Micheline Charest — who were forced out of their positions last month but are still the majority shareholders — are in talks to sell all or parts of the company.

Reps from both CanWest Global and Nelvana have said they are interested in acquiring some of Cinar’s assets, but the pending class-action lawsuits and other legal question marks remain a major hurdle to any potential deal.

A Cinar spokesman said new management has been brought in to fix the company, not sell it.

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