Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was under house arrest, set for trial over fraud case

New York, NY, USA Published: Oct 17, 2018, 11.10 AM(IST)

File photo of Kirill Serebrennikov Photograph:( Reuters )

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The trial of Russian stage and screen director Kirill Serebrennikov will start Wednesday, more than a year after he was placed under house arrest in a controversial embezzlement probe.

Prosecutors say Serebrennikov embezzled over $2 million of state funding for a theatre project. 

He has dismissed the charges against him as "absurd" and insists the money went on mounting productions.

Supporters see the probe as part of a crackdown on artistic independence under President Vladimir Putin.

The closed hearing at Moscow's Meshchansky court at 10 am (0700 GMT) will allow the sides to present their arguments before a judge. A date will also be set for further hearings on the substance of the case.

The 49-year-old has been held under a repeatedly extended house arrest since August 2017. 

A number of his collaborators were detained and are facing charges.

Serebrennikov's movie 'Leto' (Summer), based on the story of a cult late-Soviet rock group, was screened in competition at the Cannes film festival this year in his absence.

He was unable to attend the premiere of his ballet based on the life of Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev at the Bolshoi Theatre late last year.

The production was itself mired in controversy and its opening was delayed by six months. 

Management cited an under-rehearsed cast but others said the ballet's explicit homosexual themes or the criminal case against its director were the real cause.

In 2012 Serebrennikov was appointed to oversee a failing, state-run theatre now known as the Gogol Centre. 

Under his management, it became one of Moscow's best theatres and a hotspot for the capital's liberal intelligentsia.

But his appointment and experimental work there -- frequently featuring nudity and strong language -- angered cultural conservatives. 

"There was a battle against him ever since he took over the Gogol Centre," John Freedman, a Moscow-based expert on contemporary Russian theatre, told AFP. 

Four months after he was placed under house arrest, a court seized his assets, including his apartment and car.

Dozens of prominent figures in Russia and international stars, including Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen have called for Serebrennikov to be freed without charge.

Since the criminal case against him, Serebrennikov has become the most recognisable face of Moscow theatre, with calls for his release at premieres and curtain calls in the capital.

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