Revered Russian director detained, charged in $1.15mn embezzlement case

One of Russia’s most renowned theater directors, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been detained by authorities and charged with large-scale fraud, the Russian Investigative Committee said on Tuesday.

“The artistic director of the Gogol Center, Kirill Serebrennikov, has been charged with… fraud in a particularly large amount. During the interrogation, he did not admit guilt,” Investigative Committee spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko told reporters on Tuesday.

The award-winning director is facing charges of embezzling of “at least 68 million rubles ($1.15 million) in government funds earmarked in 2011-2014” and connected to Serebrennikov’s Gogol Center in Moscow, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

Serebrennikov considers the charges against him to be "absolutely absurd," his lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, told reporters on Tuesday. All the money that had been allocated by the government was spent on the initially funded, and now completed project, the lawyer added.

"The investigation intends to present formal charges of committing this crime to Serebrennikov, as well as to choose a restrictive measure," Petrenko said earlier on Tuesday.

Serebrennikov's lawyer said the 47-year-old director was detained in St. Petersburg, where he is currently filming a new movie, and was escorted to Moscow. Serebrennikov's previous movie, ‘The Student,’ won the Francois Chalais prize at the Cannes film festival last year.

Later on Tuesday, the director was questioned and sent to a pretrial detention center in Moscow. A court is expected to rule on Wednesday whether Serebrennikov should remain in custody or not, according to his lawyer.

The theater community has been outraged by Serebrennikov’s detention.

“The brilliant Kirill Serebrennikov is under arrest. I can barely believe it. We were on his set the day before yesterday. He was in great spirits,” Mikhail Idov, who co-wrote a script for Serebrennikov’s upcoming film ‘Leto,’ said on Facebook on Tuesday.

“In the end, all the state will accomplish here is to ensure there are even fewer talented men and women in Russia,” he noted.

"He is a very gifted and talented person… a great artist," the director of the Bolshoi Theater, Vladimir Urin, told Interfax, noting that Serebrennikov has staged two performances at the Bolshoi, and was due to release a third.

Prominent film director Pavel Lungin said detaining Serebrennikov made no sense.

“There is no need to keep the director in prison, so that he does not run away. He is not some dangerous criminal, assailant or smuggler,” Lungin said in an interview with Echo Moskvy radio.

“It seems to me that this is excessive cruelty, some vindictive cruelty, because he isn't a dangerous criminal."

Three former employees connected with Serebrennikov’s Gogol Center are currently on trial, including Aleksey Malobrodsky, the former managing director of Gogol Center, who is accused of embezzling 2.3 million rubles ($38,700) from the budget of Serebrennikov’s project, and an accountant, Nina Maslyayeva, who, during a court hearing earlier this month, accused Serebrennikov of being the mastermind behind a scheme to siphon off government funds.

Serebrennikov, who has denied any wrongdoing, was briefly detained and questioned in May, with searches conducted at the Gogol Center theater and the apartment of its art director, “in connection with an embezzlement case.”

Last month, just three days before the opening night, the Bolshoi Theater canceled the long-awaited revolutionary ballet production directed by Serebrennikov about Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to the West in 1961.

The theater denied reports of censorship. The Bolshoi rescheduled the premiere for next May, saying the show was canceled due to technical problems that "cannot be solved in two days.”