Cases of fraud at MDR: Everything for the show

Cases of fraud at MDR: Everything for the show

The head of entertainment at MDR was fired in 2011 for fraud and bribery. Now the verdict against Udo Foht has been announced in Leipzig.

Man in a suit wears a mask and talks on the phone in the courtroom.

According to Foht, he was never concerned with his own career, but only with the program Photo: dpa

The stocky man with the long gray hair tied back took the verdict unmoved on the outside. One year and three months imprisonment, suspended for two years, corresponds to the range of sentences expected for Udo Foht after a court agreement last autumn.

The criminal chamber at the Leipzig Regional Court remained below the request of the public prosecutor’s office on Friday, but followed her with regard to the allegations against the ex-head of the entertainment program at Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR). Foht himself admitted to 13 cases of fraud and one case of bribery.

More than eleven years after his release, a legal line has been drawn under the early “wild years” of the three-country institute founded in 1992. A lot had to be improvised, today’s control-oriented bureaucracy was not that pronounced, “compliance” was a foreign word.

No personal benefit

In 2005, MDR fired its sports director Wilfried Mohren, who four years later was sentenced to one year and eleven months in prison on probation at the same regional court in Leipzig for accepting benefits, tax evasion and fraud. The Erfurt-based children’s channel Kika suffered damage of 10 million euros from 2002 as a result of a system of corruption and embezzlement. The main responsible gambling addict production manager was sentenced in 2012 to six years and three months in prison.

“My client’s actions are not scandalous,” said Foht defender Ulrich Wehner, comparing his guilt with other cases from the MDR crisis. “The time and Foht went well together,” he rather hid a criticism of the station. A major difference to other cases, however, is that the former head of entertainment cannot be proven to have taken personal advantage. There was no material damage to the MDR either. The broadcaster waived possible claims in the process, especially since Foht had already made payments.

Udo Foht was already well connected in the scene through his work at GDR television when he became head of entertainment at MDR in 1992. “I was obsessed with my work and wanted to be successful,” he had his attorney say at the beginning of the trial. “If Mr. Foht hadn’t filled 700 slots every year, the test pattern would have run in that time,” defender Wehner answered a question from the chamber on the last day of the trial. His client gave the impetus for content and new formats.

Formal activities and contracts were “to a certain extent irrelevant” to him, as the defense attorney put it. “Everything went its socialist course,” one could add ironically as an East German socialite. Although the head of entertainment never exceeded his annual budget of 33 million euros, he apparently had difficulties with the pre-financing of productions and – to put it bluntly – with earnest money for artists. From 2003, Foht therefore practiced a kind of snowball system bypassing the official accounting of the MDR. There was talk of “financial acrobatics” at the start of the process.

Labyrinth of Debt

In order to implement his ambitious ideas, the head of entertainment personally borrowed money or asked companies for pre-financing. It was about sums in the range between 10,000 and 50,000 euros, which added up to a total damage of 314,000 euros. He initially received the money willingly because the creditors suspected the MDR to be a security guarantor, the reasoning for the judgment said. In order to pay off his debts, Udo Foht pumped money from friends and companies and thus became entangled in an increasingly confusing labyrinth.

The productions were, for example, the hit gala “Goldene Henne”. In his concluding remarks, the defendant described ad hoc decision-making situations that were customary in the industry and required a high degree of flexibility. The US singer Gloria Gaynor asked for money immediately before a performance. During another ongoing program, a star was asked to be awarded a Bambi. “I was a working program executive,” Foht explained, “I never cared about my career.”

Foht’s special relationship with his friend Carsten Weidling and his production company “Just for fun”, to which payments were also made, leaves unanswered questions. The moderator of the talk show “Riverboat” developed the format “We are everywhere” together with the head of entertainment, visits to emigrant East Germans all over the world. Agreements between the two were almost entirely verbal. Weidling came from Argentina as a witness and was remarkably gentle with the accused.

Psychological distress of the accused

Process observers, on the other hand, wondered why Foht stuck with Weidling for so long, even though he didn’t promise to become a star like Foht’s pupils Helene Fischer or Florian Silbereisen. “A possible dependency has not been clarified,” said Judge Dahms. On April 19, proceedings for extortion against Weidling begin before the same court. The MDR released Fohr in 2011 immediately after the violations became known and canceled his pension entitlements.

With his financing construct, he “put his entire economic existence and his reputation at risk,” according to the verdict. This apparently plunged him into a deep crisis. A trial scheduled to begin in 2018 had to be canceled due to inability to negotiate. The long duration of the proceedings, the psychological stress and Foht’s confession were taken into account as mitigating factors.

The television director Wolfgang Vietze, who was in office at the time of the crime, did not testify in the proceedings. MDR insiders of the 2000s are still wondering if he really didn’t notice his entertainment boss’s “improvisations”.

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