Thursday, 17. April 2014 - 09:04
07. 03. 12. - 16:00
The scandal of Wagnerian proportions that engulfed the week-long Salzburg Easter Festival (Osterfestspiele Salzburg) has finally ended up in court as a civil case is launched to try and claw back over 1 million pounds (1.5 million Euros).
Judge Christine Asserhofer is hearing evidence against two lawyers that made payments on behalf of the Easter festival organisers to Michael Dewitte, the festival's executive director, even though there was no contractual reason for the payments to be made.
Salzburg based lawyer Alfred Hammerer who is acting for the festival is also acting against a Viennese accountancy firm and the former technical director of the festival, Klaus Kretschmer.
Kretschmer, the festival's long-serving technical chief, was found lying badly injured and unconscious under a Salzburg bridge after he too was implicated in the scandal. He ended up in an artificially induced coma as a result of the attempted suicide.
Investigations by prosecutors investigating criminal charges are still not finished. The main allegations are against Michael Dewitte and Kretschmer, with the former accused of filtering off over 2.5 million pounds and the latter accused of filtering off over 1.5 million pounds.
In total nine individuals or organisations are being investigated including the two lawyers and the Viennese accountancy firm that were this week subject of a civil action by the Festival organisers to reclaim the money.
Mr Dewitte is alleged to have illicitly channelled thousands of Euro of sponsors' donations into foreign bank accounts; fiddled expenses; and paid for services which were not actually used by the festival. His alleged activities led Gabi Burgstaller, the governor of Salzburg and the festival's official president, to describe the event as a "self-service shop", which operated in a "self contained system". "Someone will have to take responsibility and pay for the damages," she said, suggesting that the scandal could stretch back as long as eight years.
The two lawyers are accused of making payments in the name of the festival company "Osterfestspiele Salzburg GmbH" to Dewitte between 2002 and 2009 to cover travel costs and overtime payments and totalling 1.1 million Euro.
The allegations against the former technical director and the accountant concern a 300,000 pound commission paid to Dewitte from a donation totalling 2.5 million Euro from the Vidyaev foundation.
The money was transferred to a post box firm in the Caribbean. Kretschmer is suspected of having pushed the transaction through.
All four claim they cannot be responsible for fraud. The case is expected to last six days. Witnesses include regional governor Gabi Burgstaller (SPÖ) and former Governor Franz Schausberger (ÖVP).
In May 2011, the Festival announced the scheduled departure of the Berlin Philharmonic as its resident orchestra, and the departure of Rattle as the organisation's artistic director, in the wake of financial problems following the financial scandal, after 2012. In June 2011, the Easter Festival announced the appointment of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden as its new resident orchestra, and Christian Thielemann as its new artistic director, as of the 2013 season, for an initial period through 2017.
The Salzburg Easter Festival (Osterfestspiele Salzburg) is an annual festival of opera and classical music held in Salzburg, Austria during Easter week. Herbert von Karajan founded this festival in 1967 as a means of expanding the traditional Salzburg Festival during the summer. The Easter Festival presents major productions of operas at its beginning and the end, along with works from the great orchestral repertoire at the Großes Festspielhaus.
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