Quinta Communications, theParis-based holding company of international investor Tarak Ben Ammar, hasrevealed itself as the company which has bought rights in French-speakingterritories to Mel Gibson's blockbusting The Passion Of The Christ.

Quinta plans to release thefilm before Easter, in early April, although details of how it will handle thefilm are not yet clear.

The announcement comes afterrecent speculation that The Passionwould not be released in France. Ben Ammar confirmed that he had closed a dealwith Gibson's Icon Entertainment International to buy rights prior to thefilm's domestic opening last Wednesday.

"We are very proud to presentMel's masterpiece in France and French-speaking territories so that people ofall religions and cultures can experience this powerful event film," said BenAmmar.

Ben Ammar first met Gibsonwhen the director was scouting locations at Ben Ammar's Empire Studios inHammamet, Tunisia, although Gibson finally opted to shoot in Italy. "We havebeen tracking this film since its inception and were hoping to be in businesswith Mel and Icon," said Ben Ammar.

Rumours have abounded in France that local distributors have shied away from acquiring the controversial film.

However, Marin Karmitz, president of the national distributors federation, has accused Icon of fuelling the rumours to gain publicity for the film.

He told French Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche, "Certain media have accused us of boycotting The Passion Of The Christ, under fear of or pressure from a Jewish lobby. But this is a voluntary tactic on the part of Icon to pass themselves off as martyrs."

Karmitz, who is chief of producer and distributor MK2, added: "Why were we not invited to screen the film' I don't know and it is certainly the first time this has happened. People think that there is a deliberately voluntary act of censorship going on. This is an intolerable form of marketing which shouldn't find itself followed by the media."

Ben Ammar has produced,financed and distributed over 60 films, many of which had religious themes suchas Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus Of Nazareth (1977), Roberto Rossellini's The Messiah (1976) and the 21-part miniseries The Bible.

In 2003, Ben Ammar inpartnership with TF1 acquired Italian terrestrial networks Europa TV and PrimaTV from Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp. Quinta also controls media properties suchas French film lab LTC/Datacine and Paris-based effects hours Duran Duboi.

Nancy Tartaglione in Paris also contributed to this story.