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Vilar’s name taken off opera’s atrium

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LONDON — London's Royal Opera House said it has removed the name of troubled philanthropist Alberto Vilar from the building's spectacular atrium after he failed to honor a multimillion-dollar pledge.

The decision follows a breakdown in the relationship between Britain's premier opera company and the Cuban-born financier, who was arrested in New York in May on charges of business fraud. Vilar, 64, has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

In July, the Royal Opera House gave Vilar 60 days to resume payments after declaring him in "material breach" of his 1999 pledge of $18 million to the company's development fund. In return for the promised donation, the company renamed its Floral Hall — an iron- and glass-roofed atrium overlooking London's Covent Garden market — the Vilar Floral Hall.

"The 60 days has lapsed and we have received no communication from Mr. Vilar," the Royal Opera House's Chief Executive Tony Hall said Monday. "Therefore the Vilar Floral Hall will revert to being known as the Floral Hall.

"We will cease to use Mr. Vilar's name on printed material and programs," he added.

The company said it had several times renegotiated Vilar's schedule of payments, "however he consistently failed to reach these new deadlines, and in doing so was in breach of all agreements."

In June, the opera dropped Vilar's name from its young artists' program, saying he had fallen behind on payments.

However, Hall said that in recognition of the $8 million of promised money that Vilar had given to the Royal Opera House since 1999, he would remain listed on a board naming donors and benefactors.

Vilar, once valued at $950 million by Forbes magazine, tried to build a legacy of opera sponsorship with the fortune he earned and lost in the rise and fall of the dot-com era of the 1990s.

The financier spent an estimated $225 million on adorning opera houses throughout the world with his name. Besides the $17 million he donated to the Royal Opera House, Vilar gave $20 million to the Metropolitan Opera in New York and $14 million to St. Petersburg's Kirov Opera.

In May, he was arrested and charged with engaging in fraudulent, deceptive and manipulative business practices. Prosecutors said Vilar used an investor's money "as a personal piggy bank" to pay expenses and make charitable donations.

Vilar has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a potential penalty of more than 10 years in prison. Vilar is free on $10 million bail.