Light sentence for Kinowelt’s Koelmel

Kinowelt topper gets 22 months probation, fine

A correction was made to this article on Aug. 2, 2004.

BERLIN — A Munich court sentenced Kinowelt founder Michael Koelmel to 22 months of probation Thursday and fined him E326,000 ($400,000) for breach of trust and obstructing insolvency proceedings in connection with the producer/distrib’s 2001 bankruptcy. He was acquitted of fraud charges.

Some $245,000 of the fine will go to nonprofit organizations.

It’s a slap on the wrist compared to the nine-year prison term prosecutors were seeking for Koelmel, who together with brother Rainer Koelmel transformed the company, founded in 1984, from an arthouse distributor into a major international media conglom that, for a short time, rivaled TV powerhouse RTL and the now-defunct Kirch Media empire.

Former EM.TV topper Thomas Haffa was fined a much heftier $1.3 million last year for misleading investors about the kidvidder’s financial state in 2000, although he too escaped jail.

Central to the case against Koelmel were charges that he illegally pocketed nearly $37 million, including $19 million from a sale of his failed sports rights business to Kinowelt, which was never officially finalized.

Despite the legal problems, the Koelmels bought back the bankrupt company’s assets last year and have moved the distribution business from Munich to Leipzig with a renewed focus on arthouse fare.

Current and upcoming releases include Dutch pic “Twin Sisters” from Ben Sombogaart, “Lisistrata” from Spanish helmer Francesc Bellmunt and German tyke pic “Max und Moritz,” which Rainer Koelmel is co-producing.

The lion’s share of Kinowelt’s revenues, however, now comes from its home entertainment division.

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