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article imageProbe into Russian filmmaker Sokurov closed after Putin 'intervenes'

By AFP     Dec 7, 2018 in World

Russian police on Friday closed a probe into alleged embezzlement by a foundation set up by acclaimed director Alexander Sokurov to help young filmmakers, after President Vladimir Putin reportedly intervened.

The possibility of a criminal investigation involving one of Russia's best known directors had prompted comparisons with the current trial for embezzlement of theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov, seen by his supporters as a crackdown on artistic freedom.

The 67-year-old Sokurov is known for "Russian Ark," which was filmed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg using a single shot, and "Faust," which won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2011.

Police in Saint Petersburg said on Friday they had checked allegations of embezzlement at Sokurov's foundation and decided not to open a criminal case "due to the lack of a crime".

The police had on Thursday said they were carrying out checks into the foundation after a member of the public reported "possible illegal activities".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday told journalists that Putin had been informed of the police check into Sokurov, but gave no details about his reaction.

Local news site Fontanka, citing sources, reported that Putin had expressed "negative emotion" over the check while in Saint Petersburg on Thursday and asked acting regional governor Andrei Beglov to look into the allegations.

Beglov said Thursday he had spoken to Sokurov and warned the city police chief and prosecutor to "act strictly within the limits of the law" considering the "scale of (Sokurov's) personality and contribution to Russia and Saint Petersburg".

Sokurov, who is in hospital, said in a Facebook statement Thursday that the checks into his foundation began several months ago and intensified after a former employee reported alleged wrongdoing.

He said the FSB security service was involved and that his phone was being tapped.

Putin's reported intervention comes despite the fact that Sokurov has publicly questioned Russia's actions in Ukraine and treatment of opposition protesters and in 2016 asked the president why Russia imprisoned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov on terrorism charges.

Sokurov in 2011 talked about Putin's role in helping to find funding for his film "Faust" despite the fact that the president "has never been a friend of mine".

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