Probe into ‘Fifth Element’ director Luc Besson’s studio financing

The director, producer, and screenwriter opened the Holywood-style facilities in September 2012

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Paris prosecutors are investigating how filmmaker Luc Besson’s vast 170-million-euro ($230m) “Film City” studio complex outside the French capital was financed, a judicial source said.

The acclaimed director, producer and screenwriter, known for “The Big Blue,” “The Fifth Element,” “Taken” and scores of other films, opened the Hollywood-style facilities in September last year, fulfilling a long-held ambition of being able to make a movie from A to Z in France.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said late Thursday that prosecutors had handed the preliminary probe over to the police department in charge of fighting corruption, financial and tax violations, after state auditors raised a red flag over the way in which the construction of the complex was financed.

According to a report last month in the Le Parisien daily, citing a “confidential note” written by the auditors, these suspect possible “embezzlement of public funds.”

But Besson’s production firm EuropaCorp, which helped finance the complex, told AFP that “the probe will show that it did not benefit from any embezzlement of public funds, and nor did its directors or shareholders.”

The complex is located in the Paris working class suburb of Saint-Denis, in an Art Deco-style former thermal power plant that Besson had used to shoot scenes from the 1990 “Nikita” and the 1994 “Leon: The Professional.”

It houses nine film sets, a vast office complex including EuropaCorp’s headquarters, carpentry, costume and model-making workshops, production and post-production facilities, and the Louis Lumiere National film school.

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Costner are some of the stars who have shot films there.

The project aims to rival British studios like Pinewood or Shepperton, as well as rising competition from lower-cost eastern European locations like Bulgaria.

At the opening last year, Besson said he had conceived the project in 1997 after being forced – “with a heavy heart” – to spend 18 months in Britain to shoot “The Fifth Element” as there were no adequate facilities in France.

EuropaCorp purchased the site in Saint-Denis in 2006, but the project nearly ground to halt the following year for lack of funds.

The full financing came together in 2008, with France’s public financial institution the Caisse des Depots and the private Vinci conglomerate acquiring the office complex, and a group of investors including EuropaCorp financing the studio facilities.

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