34 Russian artists, celebrities vouch for renowned theater director accused of embezzlement

34 Russian artists, celebrities vouch for renowned theater director accused of embezzlement
Dozens of famous Russian actors, film and theater directors, and other public figures personally vouched for revered theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was accused of fraud and put under house arrest.

Serebrennikov was detained by authorities on Tuesday. The award-winning director faces charges of fraud “in a particularly large amount” over allegedly embezzling “at least 68 million rubles ($1.15 million) in government funds earmarked in 2011-2014.”

As many as 34 Russian celebrities and public figures, including Alexander Kalyagin, the head of the Union of Theatrical Figures of Russia, Natalia Solzhenitsyna, the widow of the Literature Noble Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, actor Konstantin Khabensky, director Fyodor Bondarchuk, the director of the Bolshoi Theater, Vladimir Urin, and five-time World Music Awards winner, pop singer Philipp Kirkorov, vouched for Serebrennikov, who was charged with fraud and placed under house arrest on Wednesday.

“Numerous people, the elite of Moscow’s theatrical, film and literary intelligentsia” intervened on behalf of Serebrennikov, Russian actor and director Andrey Smirnov, who also vouched for the theater director, told TASS.

The people listed offered surety for Serebrennikov and guaranteed his appearance when called on by an investigator, prosecutor, or judge. They also asked the court not to take him into custody while the investigation is being conducted.

“I personally know Kirill [Serebrennikov], I regard him as an outstanding person, an honest and a decent [man]… I stand surety for him and ask [the court] not to take him into custody,” film director Aleksey Popogrebsky told TASS, adding that the detained theater director would “surely” cooperate with the investigators if released.

Another Russian film director, Aleksey Mizgirev, also characterized Serebrennikov as “a very honest man” and said during the court hearing that he believes all government funds Serebrennikov received were indeed spent on his project.

Serebrennikov’s lawyer presented 32 personal sureties to the court on Wednesday, and two other people gave their guarantees separately. The court took all the documents into account but still ordered the theater director to be placed under house arrest until October 19.

Serebrennikov was barred from leaving his home, taking to the media, or using the internet. He was also forbidden to take part in any film shoots, even though he is currently filming a new movie. Police even put an electronic bracelet on him to monitor his movement and prevent him from leaving home.

The director stated during the court hearing that he was innocent, adding that he had no intention to flee from justice. He also denounced his house arrest as an “unjustifiably cruel measure that would prevent him from finishing his work.”

A similar assessment of the court decision was given by Thomas Koch, the Communications Director of the Oper Stuttgart (Stuttgart Opera) in Germany, who also called it “disproportionally harsh measure.”

“Oper Stuttgart sees Kirill Serebrennikov’s house arrest as a disproportionally strict measure that puts a ban on his communication with the outside world. His whole artistic work is thus disturbed in a most sensitive way,” Koch told RIA news agency.

The Stuttgart Opera communications director also said that the Hansel and Gretel opera staged by Serebrennikov would still premier in his theater on October 22.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky called the director’s arrest a “sad situation.”

“This is a very sad situation for everyone, who works in the field of culture,” he told journalists on Wednesday, adding that his ministry would further enhance control over the process of distribution of the government grants.

He also said that the ministry “systemically supported Kirill Serebrennikov and his projects for many years,” adding that “this situation gives us no joy.”

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.

Three former employees connected with Serebrennikov’s Gogol Center are also currently on trial on similar charges. Serebrennikov himself denies any wrongdoing and considers the charges against him to be “absolutely absurd,” his lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, told reporters on Tuesday.

The director’s detention provoked a wave of outrage in the theater community. “In the end, all the state will accomplish here is to ensure there are even fewer talented men and women in Russia,” Mikhail Idov, a scriptwriter, said in a Facebook post.