French newspaper reported company is under investigation over public investment into Cité du Cinema. EuropaCorp “surprised” and “outraged” by claims of misappropriated funds.

EuropaCorp has started legal proceedings against newspaper Le Parisien over its report that the construction of the Paris Cité du Cinéma complex, spearheaded by company founder Luc Besson, was financed with misappropriated public funds.

“EuropaCorp as well as a number of its shareholders have instructed their legal advisor Master Jean-Marc Fedida to initiate criminal proceedings for the offence of dissemination of false or misleading information,” the company announced on Monday.

The company said it would be also pressing for defamation charges to be brought against the French newspaper, the journalist who wrote the article and the editor of the newspaper.

Le Parisien published details on Saturday of a leaked memo from France’s Court of Auditors to Justice Minister Christiane Taubira suggesting that public investment in the cinema hub had been dishonestly secured and that the crime had then been concealed.

According to the report, the memo said that “public finance into the Cité du Cinéma, had been agreed against the advice of state services and the Caisse des Depots” and that it had been pushed through “to bring to fruition a project being carried-out by a private company for its own benefit.”

“The proximity of Besson and certain of his collaborators with the highest authorities of the state allowed for a concerted intervention by public actors,” the memo continued.

Le Parisien noted that EuropaCorp CEO Christophe Lambert had collaborated on former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign, and that the statesman’s former advisor Emmanuelle Mignon had worked briefly for the company as secretary general from July 2010 to January 2012. 

The memo was referring to a €105m investment by the Caisse des Depots et Consignations, a state-backed fund aimed at projects with a long-term benefit to French infrastructure, into the project.  

The Cinéma du Cité complex, built on the site of a magnificent, old electricity plant on the outskirts of Paris, is divided into two entities: the Nef Lumiere (Lumiere Nave), built around the frame of the old power station, and the Studios de Paris, comprising nine sound-stages.

The Nef Lumiere, which comprises a huge central, huge glass-roofed nave flanked by offices, two cinema schools, theatres and a huge canteen, was inaugurated amid much razzmatazz in September 2012. EuropaCorp rents out office space in the nave to house its HQ and other related companies. 

The Caisse des Depots joined forces with building giant Vinci in a public-private partnership to pay for the construction of the Nef Lumiere in 2010. Vinci put up 25% of the total €141m investment.

Besson had secured the land on which the Cité du Cinéma now stands in 2003 and paid for its clean-up privately but the project was at a standstill due to lack of funds until the Caisse de Depots and Vinci came on board.

The construction of the Studios de Paris, which stand beside the nave, was co-financed by EuropaCorp, Besson’s holding company Frontline, Tarak Ben Ammar Quinta Communications and studio and equipment specialist Euro Media France. It reportedly cost €30m to build.

EuropaCorp put out a statement on Saturday expressing surprise at news of the report.

 “EuropaCorp has no knowledge of an eventual Court of Accounts report. Furthermore, the company has not been interrogated by anyone,” said the statement. “EuropaCorp is thus very surprised to hear that a “confidential memo” is on Madame Taubira’s desk and is outraged by this unfair allegation.”

 “The Cité du Cinéma is a great achievement for France and the La Seine-Saint-Denis region. It was built with the support of both state powers and local politicians who believed in its creation for strategic and general interest reasons. Luc Besson was its initiator, putting his fame and energy at the service of the project, but he is not the owner and has not gained any personal financial profit from it.”