NEW YORK: Disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s former studio appeared to inch closer toward bankruptcy Monday over complaints that talks to buy the troubled production house had collapsed, leaving it with “no choice” but to go to the wall.
The Weinstein Company said that it had failed to reach a deal with an investor group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet, who served in Barack Obama’s administration, for a reported $500 million despite battling to make it palatable to prosecutors.
Contreras-Sweet, a Mexican immigrant who said she had been inspired by the #MeToo sexual harassment watershed in her bid to turn the company around and have it led by women, responded by saying she was “surprised” to learn of its complaints in the press.
“It was my understanding that we were close to signing the transaction documents in a couple of days. Regrettably, it appears that this transaction has now ended,” she said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear whether the deal can still be salvaged in some way. Weinstein was sacked as company chairman in October after bombshell exposes accused him of years of sexual harassment, assault and even rape.
Any bankruptcy will cast further doubt on the fate of several finished movies, which have languished on the shelf since the scandal blew up, with no release dates announced.
They include historical drama “The Current War,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, “Mary Magdalene,” a religious drama starring Rooney Mara, and “The War With Grandpa,” a comedy starring Robert De Niro.
In a letter to Contreras-Sweet on Sunday, Weinstein Company representatives said they had worked “tirelessly” to accommodate principles laid out by New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman.
The prosecutor sued the firm earlier this month fearing that the imminent sale could leave victims of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct without adequate redress.
He said any deal should provide adequate compensation for victims, protect employees and remove executives who had been complicit in Weinstein’s misconduct.
In Sunday’s letter, the company complained that Contreras-Sweet’s group had neither kept its side of the bargain on Schneiderman’s principles nor paid interim funding required to run the business and maintain employees before the buyout was finalized.
$90 million for victims
“We must conclude that your plan to buy this company was illusory and would only leave this company hobbling toward its demise to the detriment of all constituents,” read the letter, a copy of which Agence France-Presse obtained.
“While we deeply regret that your actions have led to this unfortunate outcome for our employees, our creditors and any victims, we will now pursue the board’s only viable option to maximize the company’s remaining value: an orderly bankruptcy process.
“Over the coming days, the company will prepare its bankruptcy filing with the goal of achieving maximum value in court,” it added.
Schneiderman’s office said it was “disappointed,” given that there had been “a clear path forward” on meeting the guidelines, including a commitment from the buyer “to dedicate up to $90 million to victim compensation.”
“We will continue to pursue justice for victims in the event of the company’s bankruptcy,” said director of communications and senior counsel Eric Soufer.
Besides Contreras-Sweet’s investor group, there had been nearly a dozen other bids, including from Qatari group beIN, Hollywood studio Lionsgate and another female-led investor group lined up behind audiovisual production company Killer Content.
Over the years, Weinstein’s films received more than 300 Oscar nominations and 81 statuettes — but October marked the beginning of the end for his career, after The New York Times and New Yorker published the first of an avalanche of allegations.
More than 100 women have since accused him of sexual harassment, assault and rape going back 40 years, leading not only to his career annihilation but to a US reckoning over harassment and abuse that has toppled a litany of powerful men in various sectors.
Jennifer Lawrence, who at 27 is considered one of America’s top actresses, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that when she found out about the allegations, she “wanted to kill him.”
“The way he destroyed so many women’s lives. I want to see him in jail,” she told CBS television’s “60 Minutes.”
The twice-married father of five is being investigated by British and US police, but has not been charged with any crime. He denies having non-consensual sex and is reportedly in treatment for sex addiction.