Ex-chief of Germany's VIP gets 6 years

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COLOGNE, Germany -- Andreas Schmid, former head of German film fund VIP, was found guilty of multiple counts of tax evasion and sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday.

His business partner Andreas Grosch also was found guilty and handed a two-year suspended sentence.

Schmid was released on 4 million euro ($5.8 million) bail pending his appeal. He has already served more than two years in jail, having been arrested in late 2005.

It was the end of a marathon trial against the founders of VIP, the Munich-based group that emerged from nowhere in 2001 and quickly became the largest of Germany's often legally dubious film financing funds.

VIP rose to the top thanks to Schmid's aggressive salesmanship and a fund structure that seemed to provide backers with a near risk-free investment supported by a government-approved tax break.

In a few short years, VIP bankrolled productions worth nearly $1 billion. Films as varied as "Lucky Number Slevin," "All the Kings Men," "The Upside of Anger," "The Punisher" and "Death at a Funeral," all benefited from VIP financing.

But during that time, according to ruling judge Huberta Knoringer, Schmid and Grosch were defrauding the German tax authorities to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros.
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