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Luc Besson’s Cite du Cinema Probed By France’s Audit Court

Gaul's audit court claims the financing of Besson's megastudio possibly involved embezzlement of public funds

Paris Studios Cite du Cinema

Luc Besson’s 170 million Euros ($229 million) film hub, La Cite du Cinema, may be investigated by France’s justice minister following a report by Gaul’s audit court highlighting irregularities and possible embezzlement of public funds.

Launched in Fall 2012, the Cite du Cinema is home to nine sound stages, covering 120,000 sq. ft., EuropaCorp’s headquarter, two film schools, and various production companies.

The Cite du Cinema was mainly financed by Nef Lumiere — of which 75% is owned by the state-backed Caisse des depots et consignations (Deposits and Consignments Fund) and 25% belongs to Vinci Group, a privately-owned French concessions and construction company. Nef Lumiere put down $189 million for the land purchase, while the remaining $40.4 million were provided by EuropaCorp, Besson’s holding company Frontline, Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications and facilities provider Euro Media France.

A public group, the Caisse des Depots describes itself as “a long term investor serving general interest and the economic development of the country,” as well as backing “companies (contributing to) patrimony interests.”

The audit court, however, found that the Cite du Cinema is only serving its own interests. The court document also emphasized the close ties of Besson’s right-hand man, CEO Christophe Lambert, with former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was particularly outspoken about his wish to see the Cite du Cinema materialize during his mandate.

Lambert worked with Sarkozy during the 2007 presidential election. Another member of Sarkozy’s team, his advisor Emmanuelle Mignon, joined EuropaCorp in July 2010 and left the shingle in Jan. 2012 to go back into politics. “The close relationship of Luc Besson and some of his collaborators with the State’s highest circles may have favored an intervention of public figures (and in this case, the Caisse des depots),” stated the audit court in its report.

Reacting to the court report, EuropaCorp claimed “The Cite du Cinema was created thanks to the backing of public authorities and local political figures who acknowledged the perspectives and benefits to public interest it could provide.”

The French studio added, “The Cite du Cinema creates employments, boosts the appeal of the French film industry. Thanks to (the Cite’s) equipment, France can lure back big French productions (including those of EuropaCorp) which were shooting abroad because of the lack of a proper infrastructure.”

The largest studio complex in France, the 16-acre Cite du Cinema was masterminded by Besson to compete with the U.K.’s Pinewood, Germany’s Babelsberg and Italy’s Cinecitta.

Since its official launch a year ago, the Cite du Cinema has hosted a few film shoots, notably EuropaCorp’s “Three Days To Kill,” “The Family,” as well as Frederic Cavaye’s “Mea Culpa” and “The Smurfs 2.”

The audit court report, unveiled on Nov. 16 by French newspaper Le Parisien, sparked headlines in France, where Sarkozy is rumored to be staging a political comeback.