A world famous Italian opera house says it is going to immediately return €3m (£2.6m) to Saudi Arabia following a “badly handled fundraising deal”.
Giuseppe Sala, Milan’s mayor, said that La Scala’s board made the decision to hand the money back earlier this year. The cash was placed in their account without a proper indication of what it was for.
He added that the board had not been formally told about fundraising discussions by the general manager either.
While the current procedure aimed at making Saudi Arabia an official financial backer of the opera house was officially closed, Mr Sala refused to rule out future talks with the kingdom.
La Scala’s orchestra are still going to tour the Gulf nation in 2020.
The deal with Saudi Arabia was said to be worth about €15m (£12.8m). It would have seen a music school open for Saudi children regardless of their gender.
But it attracted controversy in Italy because of the kingdom’s human rights record – especially after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr Sala said that the fundraising talks were handled badly in terms of their communication, and that despite being aware of the talks, he was not aware of the transfer of any funds.
The mayor did however say that the artistic director of La Scala, Alexander Pereira, had “acted in good faith” and that his position “was not in question for the time being”, despite calls by the governor of Lombardy for his removal.
Saudi Arabian officials have blamed the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on “rogue agents”, after he was “tortured” and “dismembered” in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in October 2018.
The Gulf nation remains under intense international criticism over Mr Khashoggi’s death.
(c) Sky News 2019: La Scala: World famous opera house to return Saudi Arabia’s investment