Thursday 19 July 2018

Russian theatre director put under house arrest over embezzlement claims

Kirill Serebrennikov attends a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia (AP)
Kirill Serebrennikov attends a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia (AP)

A revered Russian theatre director has been put under house arrest on charges of embezzling 68 million rubles (£900,000).

It is the latest step in a case widely seen as part of a crackdown on freedom of expression in Russia.

Kirill Serebrennikov, whose productions ranged from drama and opera to films, has won broad acclaim for satires mocking official lies, corruption and a growing hard-line streak in Russian society.

Moscow's Basmanny Court heeded the investigators' request to put him under house arrest for almost two months.

The 47-year-old was detained in St Petersburg, where he was shooting a film, on Tuesday.

Serebrennikov was driven to Moscow and put in jail later in the day.

His detention has shaken the Russian arts scene and outraged the country's liberal circles.

The Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigative agency, accused Serebrennikov of scheming to embezzle 68 million rubles in government funds allocated for his productions during 2011-2014.

He rejected the charges in court on Wednesday, saying the state funds were used to finance "big and bright" shows that spawned young talents.

"We were doing a bright and powerful project, which has become known worldwide," he said.

"A huge number of viewers could confirm that we made a brilliant show."

He asked the court to allow him to keep working on his theatre productions and the film, saying he did not intend to flee and that authorities had already confiscated his passport.

"I'm trying to make our country culturally important and powerful on a global scale," Serebrennikov said.

"I have no intention to run away, my work is the meaning of my life."

The judge rejected Serebrennikov's plea to go free and his lawyer's offer to provide bail equalling the sum he is accused of embezzling.

Some of Russia's leading cultural figures have backed Serebrennikov.

In a speech to the court, Irina Prokhorova, a sister of Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire Russian tycoon who owns the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, hailed Serebrennikov as "the pride of Russia".

She pledged to provide any bail the court ordered.

Several hundred of his supporters rallied outside, shouting Serebrennikov's name and chanting "Freedom!"

Serebrennikov was briefly detained and questioned in May, but investigators stopped short of pressing charges.

The theatre's accountant and one senior manager have remained in custody while another manager is under house arrest.

Serebrennikov's productions have topped Moscow's theatre scene for years.

In September, he was to direct an opera in Stuttgart, Germany.

His movie The Student won the Francois Chalais prize at the Cannes film festival last year.

While Serebrennikov had personal contacts with some members of the Russian government and his theatre received lavish state funding, he also faced frequent attacks from politicians and conservative activists who demanded an end to the state subsidies.

In July, Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theatre cancelled a much-anticipated ballet about dancer Rudolf Nureyev directed by Serebrennikov just three days before opening night.

The decision prompted many in Moscow's art scene to speak of a return to censorship.

The Bolshoi denied reports that the Nureyev ballet had been scrapped because of its frank description of his gay relationships, a taboo under a strict Russian law banning gay propaganda.

AP

Press Association

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