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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Russia detains top director over alleged fraud

Kirill Serebrennikov, 47, is the artistic director of Moscow's Gogol Centre theatre and has staged productions at the legendary Bolshoi Theatre

In this photo taken on June 27, 2017, Kirill Serebrennikov, one of Russia's most venerated theatre and film directors, leads a rehearsal in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Damir Yusupov / AP
In this photo taken on June 27, 2017, Kirill Serebrennikov, one of Russia's most venerated theatre and film directors, leads a rehearsal in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Damir Yusupov / AP

Russia's Investigative Committee said Tuesday that it had detained top theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov on suspicion of committing massive fraud.

Mr Serebrennikov, 47, is the artistic director of Moscow's Gogol Centre theatre and has staged productions at the legendary Bolshoi Theatre. His films have been shown at Cannes and Venice film festivals.

The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said in a statement he was being held on suspicion of defrauding the state of at least 68 million rubles (Dh4.23m) in arts funding over three years between 2011 and 2014.

Mr Serebrennikov's lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov told Kommersant FM radio that an investigator told him of the detention that morning and it was "a complete surprise". He said that Mr Serebrennikov had been shooting a film in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.

In recent years, Mr Serebrennikov has fallen out of favour with the authorities and has criticised growing censorship of the arts by officials, warning last year that "everything is returning to the most pathetic Soviet practices".

Deputy culture minister Alexander Zhuravsky told TASS news agency that he learnt of Mr Serebrennikov's detention from media but said that "if they detained him, it means there is some legal decision that calls for such a measure".

Mr Serebrennikov could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges.

The Investigative Committee said it intends to press charges against Mr Serebrennikov and a court will rule whether to hold him behind bars. A source told TASS state news agency that the court ruling could be Tuesday.

Investigators had previously confiscated his passport, preventing him from travelling abroad.

Investigators questioned the director and raided his flat in Moscow and the Gogol-Centre theatre in May, prompting protests from leading figures in the arts world, including Vladimir Urin, general director of the Bolshoi Theatre.

"What was done to the director was wrong," Mr Urin told journalists at the time, adding that he had written to president Vladimir Putin to protest the handling of the investigation.

Kommersant daily reported in May that Mr Putin told an actor who protested against the investigators' conduct towards Mr Serebrennikov: "They are just fools."

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov however told journalists at the time that the Kremlin was not involved in the case and "there is no politics or creativity here".

Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, who has publicly criticised Mr Serebrennikov's shows, in May said he was "grieved" over the probe.

However, he stressed at the time that Mr Serebrennikov was only a witness and said "he has always been treated kindly by the authorities. He definitely has no reason to take offence".

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