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‘Professor and the Madman’ Director Accuses Producer of Ireland Film Tax Fraud

Farhad Safinia
Danny Moloshok/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

The director of the troubled dictionary film “The Professor and the Madman” is accusing the producer of trying to defraud Ireland’s tax rebate program.

Farhad Safinia is locked in a battle with Voltage Pictures over the unfinished film, which stars Mel Gibson and Sean Penn, and chronicles the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson and Safinia have accused Voltage of failing to shoot essential scenes at Oxford, opting instead to save money by shooting at Trinity College Dublin. Safinia is pursuing a copyright lawsuit in federal court, accusing Voltage of exploiting the screenplay without his permission.

In a new filing on Thursday, Safinia’s attorneys ask the court to allow them to question Voltage executives about the film’s expenses and its rebate applications to the Irish Film Board. Ireland offers a generous 32% rebate to productions that spend more than $307,000 there.

Safinia alleges that producer Zev Foreman asked Safinia to take a grossly inflated fee, and then rebate the excess portion of it back to Voltage in a “sham transaction.” According to Safinia, the aim of the scheme was “inflating the costs of the production in Ireland, and thus increasing the rebate amount.”

“Mr. Safinia will show this indecent proposal also informed his ultimate decision not to give Defendants his permission to make and sell a film derived from his screenplay,” the motion states.

Safinia contends that although he refused the arrangement, others consented to it, and he intends to prove the allegation at trial.

Safinia’s attorneys tried to ask Foreman and Dominic Rustam, the head of production at Voltage, about the production’s Ireland tax rebates at their depositions. Rustam and Foreman refused to answer, on advice of counsel who argued that the questions are irrelevant to Safinia’s suit.

Voltage’s attorney, Jeremiah Reynolds, denied Safinia’s allegations.

“My clients deny this false and defamatory accusation,” Reynolds said. “If Mr. Safinia was truly concerned about an ‘Irish tax rebate scheme,’ why did he go forward with directing the movie? The answer is there was no scheme and this has been made up.”

“The Professor and the Madman” is expected to be released this fall.