Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov goes on trial for fraud

Russian stage and screen director Kirill Serebrennikov waits for the start of a hearing at a court in Moscow on November 7, 2018

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AFP

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Serebrennikov is one of Russia’s foremost stage and screen directors

Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov has gone on trial for fraud – in a case which his supporters say is manufactured to crack down on artistic expression.

Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling some $2m (£1.5m) of public money from a theatre project, which he denies.

The famed director is a well-known critic of arts censorship in Russia.

His ballet production about the dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who defected during the Cold War, was cancelled last year.

Described as one of the most anticipated ballets of the season, it was pulled just a week before its premiere while Serebrennikov was under house arrest for the alleged embezzlement.

Its venue, the Bolshoi theatre, argued the production was not ready for public performance – but it was widely believed that the ballet was considered too risqué for conservative Russia.

Serebrennikov has remained under house arrest for more than a year.

He arrived to the first public day of his trial dressed entirely in black, with the exception of purple running shoes, telling the court he never stole anything and labelling the charges against him “absurd”.

He has long insisted the money was properly spent on the intended purpose – a modern art interdisciplinary project named Platforma, which ran between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors allege he formed a criminal group with his three co-defendants, which signed fake contracts for non-existent services and pocketed the money for their own purposes.

Under questioning from the prosecutor on Wednesday, Serebrennikov insisted that as artistic director of the project, he had little – if any – financial authority or involvement with the business side of things.

If convicted, Serebrennikov may face up to a decade in prison.

His arrest led to an international outcry from theatre professionals who saw the case as politically motivated.

Media captionProtesters gathered outside Serebrennikov’s first court appearance last year

A petition last year gathered more than 50,000 signatures urging Russian officials “to drop the flimsy accusation” the intentions of which was “to silence an internationally renowned director”.

In addition to substantial support from his contemporaries in the Russian art scene, among the signatories were famous names familiar to Western audiences, including actress Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss, and director Lars von Trier.

Despite being under house arrest and banned from leaving the country, Serebrennikov has managed to produce an opera in Zurich without access to a phone or internet.

He recorded videos with his instructions to USB memory sticks, which were posted to the rest of the artistic team in Switzerland – and received recordings of the rehearsals in return.

The opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, premiered on Sunday.

While detained, Serebrennikov missed the premiere of his film Leto, which was well-received at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov goes on trial for fraud

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