Corruption, intrigue... and that's before the Wagner's even begun

A multimillion-euro fraud investigation and an attempted suicide have added to the drama at Salzburg's prestigious festival

A scandal of Wagnerian proportions has engulfed Salzburg's music festival, just weeks before Sir Simon Rattle conducts the German composer's opera Götterdämmerung, a tale of corruption and downfall that now seems particularly apt.

The week-long Easter festival has been shaken to the core after an apparent suicide attempt by its technical chief and the disappearance of the director amid allegations of a massive fraud totalling over €2m (£1.7m).

Austrian state prosecutors announced at the weekend that they were investigating eight people connected with the event on suspicion of deception and embezzlement. "We expect our inquiries to take months," a spokesman said. "It involves non-existent companies and offshore bank accounts."

The extent of the scandal began to unfold in early December following the abrupt dismissal of Michael Dewitte, the festival's executive director, who is now being sought by police after disappearing without trace.

Mr Dewitte is alleged to have illicitly channelled thousands of euros of sponsors' donations into foreign bank accounts; fiddled expenses; and paid for services which were not actually used by the festival. His alleged activities led Gabi Burgstaller, the governor of Salzburg and the festival's official president, to describe the event as a "self-service shop", which operated in a "self contained system". "Someone will have to take responsibility and pay for the damages," she said, suggesting that the scandal could stretch back as long as eight years.

Several of the methods that Mr Dewitte allegedly used to defraud the festival of sponsorship money were leaked to the Austrian press. They included revelations that he had put his wife on the festival payroll and siphoned off €300,000 into a fake company with a bank account in Northern Cyprus. He is also suspected of fiddling expenses on a grand scale: an taxi fare from nearby Salzburg airport to the city, for example, was billed at €585.

Mr Dewitte, who is alleged to have embezzled 5 per cent of all the funds donated to the festival over the past eight years had dismissed the allegations against him as "untenable "and "rubbish".

Last week Klaus Kretschmer, the festival's long-serving technical chief, was found lying badly injured and unconscious under a Salzburg bridge. He was relieved of his duties after he too was implicated in the scandal. Since the suspected suicide attempt, he has been kept in an artificially induced coma.

He is accused of charging the festival €700,000 for so-called advisory services allegedly carried out by a series of companies near Munich, for which he pocketed the money. Before his fall from the bridge he insisted that he was innocent. "The investigation has been against Dewitte and I am the collateral damage," he said.

Ms Burgstaller is now also beginning to feel the heat. "She is president of the festival, but the politician claims to have known nothing because she relied purely on the information supplied by the controller and two auditing firms," remarked Austria's Der Standard newspaper.

The auditing firms Deloitte and Ernst & Young, which compiled annual reports on the festival, have said they were completely unaware of the embezzlement because neither had conducted a detailed audit. The allegation of fraud emerged only after the festival was subjected to a special financial investigation late last year.

The Salzburg Easter Festival was launched by the legendary Berlin Philharmonic conductor Herbert von Karajan in 1967 as a special annual concert event for the orchestra. It is one of the most expensive festivals in the world with tickets for two concerts and an opera costing €1,250 each. Sir Simon Rattle, who is one of Karajan's successors, will conduct the orchestra during the festival which is due to open on 27 March.

There was concern that the scandal would damage the much larger Salzburg summer festival. "It is like the American bombing of Belgrade," remarked Ioan Holender, the head of the Vienna state opera house. "They called it collateral damage. The two festivals are in the same building and have the same infrastructure. With the best will in the world, the two cannot be separated."

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine