A major bank in Hong Kong is pushing for authorities to investigate allegations that L.A.-based Hannibal Pictures forged signatures on key documents to obtain financing for the Antonio Banderas film, “The Big Bang,” TheWrap has learned.
The alleged forgeries were provided to Standard Chartered Bank, which announced this week that it had halted all new film lending activities.
Hannibal Pictures, founded by producer Richard Rionda Del Castro, allegedly forged a signature from an employee of Film Finances, the bond company on the production, according to an individual close to the film.
Hannibal allegedly also faked signatures for the notice of assignment to the bank, according to another individual with knowledge of the situation.
The documents were used to secure about $7 million in loans from Standard Chartered Bank to fund the $17-million production.
One of those individuals also said that the Hong Kong authorities were investigating the allegations.
Asked about an investigation, a spokeswoman for Hannibal Pictures would only say, “It’s in the lawyers’ hands.”
“The Big Bang,” a 2011 film noir, centers on a detective’s search for a missing stripper. It received only a limited theatrical release domestically and middling reviews, with the New York Times labeling it “…a jumble of notions tossed into a hat.”
Whatever the film’s virtues or demerits, the affair is an embarrassment to the bank, which appears to have inadequately verified the documents at the time of signatures. The alleged forgeries were discovered later, when the movie was delivered.
Elaine Chin, a spokeswoman for Standard Chartered, would not comment on the allegations.
“We are unable to comment on any pending or ongoing legal matters,” Chin said in a statement to TheWrap.
The closure of the film financing division was covered in the media this week.
The bank, headquartered in London, “is understood to have been unhappy with the low levels of gap financing and other lending that the entertainment unit has written in China and the Asian region,” said an article in Film Business Asia.
Chin said that despite the news breaking this week, Standard Chartered had left the film lending business last year.
"We made a conscious decision in early 2011 to end our film lending business as film financing is not a key business area for existing clients in our footprint across Asia, Africa and the Middle East," she said.
The allegations against Hannibal are an “open secret” in the tight knit banking community, one individual said. That could complicate matters for the company as it tries to line up financing for future projects.
Based in Los Angeles, Hannibal Pictures was started in 1999. It has financed and produced such films as “Casino Jack,” the 2010 Kevin Spacey drama about the life of Jack Abramoff, and the upcoming naval drama “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.”
Standard Chartered established its film lending division in 2006. It worked with Hannibal on both “The Big Bang” and “Casino Jack,” but primarily focused on productions with Asian filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou's 2006 “Curse of the Golden Flower” and John Woo’s 2008 “Red Cliff.”
At Hannibal, Del Castro serves as the production and financing company’s chairman and chief executive officer. Hannibal produces three to six films a year with budgets between $3 million to $20 million, according to its website.