Zagreb Grasping For Stones

The city of Zagreb is staging a last-ditch battle to get a show on this summer’s Rolling Stones Bigger Bang tour, although the offer may not be as big as the incredible US$4 million national daily Vecernji List claims city mayor Milan Bandic is prepared to pay.

Davor Zagar, head of the Croatian capital’s Zagreb Concert Management (KDZ) and the man most likely to make an offer on the city’s behalf, denied the story and said the paper made it up because it’s the left-wing mayor’s strongest critic.

However, he was in touch with Rolling Stones European promoter John Giddings as of March 26 – a couple of days after the story was printed – and it may be that Zagreb will be putting in a late offer to get a show.

"Get the mayor on the phone," was how Solo chief Giddings jokingly responded when Pollstar drew his attention to the Vecernji List story and the alleged US$4 million offer.

Vojislav Mazzocco and Nevenka Mikac, the two journalists who wrote the story, said they trust the source of their figures. But if any such offer was actually made, it evidently didn’t reach Giddings.

Zagar confirmed on March 5 that the city had turned down the chance to do a 2007 Stones show, but something has clearly changed since the tour dates were announced March 22.

It’s possible that Mayor Bandic intervened behind the scenes.

The Rolling Stones gig in Zagreb became a political football even before the 2006 show was announced nearly a year ago.

Zagar has only headed KDZ for six weeks. He was drafted when former chief Sasa Britvic was relieved of the job and placed under investigation for misuse of public money.

His department is said to have dipped into the public purse to pay the wages of non-existent employees, showed cash payments to artists that never performed and put in bogus claims for travel expenses.

The discrepancies came to light when Sandra Veljkovic, another journalist with Vecernji List, got sight of the state audit report on KDZ for 2004.

"For eight months, [KDZ] received money for two employees more than they had. They even claimed money for an employee who had left the company in 2003," she told Pollstar.

The papers have since made much of last year’s cancellation costing the city more than euro 300,000 and investigated where the money went. But the papers have yet to focus on the fact that the losses might have been hugely reduced if Zagreb Concert Management took out insurance against the act being unable to appear, which is a condition (Clause 8.6) in the Stones contract.

Zagar is trying to follow the paper trail leading to the truth about where the costs really went, a task made more difficult by the fact Britvic is said to have deleted all his e-mail records and formatted his hard drive before being shown the door.

Euro 100,000 was apparently paid to Befra Finanz und Beratungskontor AG, a Liechtenstein-based company, which claims the payment was a "commission for the inducement to entering into the agreements regarding the performance of Rolling Stones for July 5 2006."

That figure’s close to 10 percent of the act’s minimum performance guarantee fee for playing the show.

Two weeks before his dismissal, Britvic was still making efforts to get it back by threatening legal action against Befra if the money wasn’t returned.

Befra president Renatus Kuhne refused to refund it, on the grounds that the commission was being held over to cover a rescheduled show for July 9, 2007. But the list of Stones dates announced March 22 shows the act will be playing Budva Jazz Beach in Montenegro that day.

Kuhne has repeatedly refused to answer Pollstar questions on whether the money will be refunded now or reveal if his company is holding the money on behalf of another party.

However, he supplied a written statement to say it wasn’t for Wolfgang Klinger of Vienna-based Rock & More, the person KDZ believes to be the beneficiary, who is the Stones’ European tour promoter John Giddings’ local organiser for Austria and the neighbouring Balkan states.

Klinger denied having the money and claims he hadn’t heard of Befra until he read its name in a Pollstar news story.

Marijan Crnaric was Klinger’s local Zagreb rep on last year’s canceled Stones show until Giddings became fed up of the media outcry resulting from the fact that he hadn’t refunded ticket money for other canceled shows in the city. He said KDZ paid the money to Befra as a fee for "business advice in arranging the deal for the Rolling Stones show."

Crnaric said he’s also aware that Befra offered to carry the fee over to cover the July 9, 2007, show but KDZ said it didn’t want to do the date.

Britvic sent a letter to Befra January 18 saying "Zagreb Concert Management at this moment does not have any specific intention to be involved as the organiser of the rescheduled event," although – when he first took the job – Zagar said the city would love to do the show as long as Klinger and Crnaric aren’t involved.

Zagar said he’s told Crnaric that he either gets his help with his inquiries into what happened with the Stones money or he’ll ask the police to investigate his involvement.

Crnaric had an office alongside Britvic in the KDZ building at Kneza Mislava 18, but left after the 2006 Stones show was canceled.

He said the euro 20,000 costs paid to "Vital Media," an invoice and collecting agency, was a "pre-payment" of part of his own fees and was sent directly – and without passing through his hands – to the local PRS to cover an outstanding bill that he owed.

If he failed to pay, it could have made it harder for him to get the requisite permits to stage future shows.

Most of the rest of the money appears to have gone to various forms of marketing and advertising.

A day after the new 2007 Bigger Bang dates were announced and it became clear the originally proposed Zagreb show date had gone to Budva, KDZ renewed its efforts to speak to Giddings direct in a bid to secure a date for Zagreb between that show and the Belgrade show slotted for July 14.