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Arts figures condemn raid on top Moscow theatre in fraud probe

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Prominent Russian arts figures including the Bolshoi theatre chief on Wednesday condemned investigators for raiding a top Moscow theatre and the home of its outspoken director in a fraud probe.

Investigators searched the state-funded Gogol Centre theatre and the flat of its artistic director Kirill Serebrennikov in a show of force Tuesday, bringing rehearsals to a halt and confiscating actors' phones.

"What was done to the director was wrong," Bolshoi theatre general director Vladimir Urin told journalists, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Serebrennikov was taken in for questioning by investigators after a search of his flat that lasted several hours, although he is a witness in the case of stolen money allocated by the government for the arts.

Urin, who rarely comments on matters beyond the Bolshoi, said he had written to President Vladimir Putin protesting over the handling of the investigation.

Asked about it by journalists, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had not received any such appeal and denied the raid was excessive.

Police have arrested two people in connection with the probe, Moscow investigators said Wednesday, naming them as an accountant and a former director of a company founded by Serebrennikov.

Investigators said they were suspected of embezzling around 200 million rubles ($3.5 million at the current exchange rate) allocated for popularisation of the arts between 2011 and 2014.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the Gogol Centre theatre on Tuesday evening, with some calling the raid a politically motivated attack on the arts, though the Kremlin denied there was "any politics" in the probe.

"Kirill Serebrennikov isn't some starting-out artist, he's a source of pride for Russia and well known in the world," said popular film director Fyodor Bondarchuk outside the theatre, calling the raid "an outrage."

"Kirill Serebrennikov is inconvenient" to the authorities, wrote arts website Afisha, calling the fraud allegations "absurd."

Gogol Centre was previously targeted by conservative activists, who even installed a naked cutout of Serebrennikov outside, and Russia's culture minister criticised his plays.

Serebrennikov is a theatre and film director who was appointed in 2012 to head an ailing and unpopular Soviet-era theatre, remaking it into a contemporary venue with his own radical stagings as well as hosting film and dance festivals.

In 2015 he staged the Hero of Our Time ballet at the Bolshoi theatre based on the classic novel by Mikhail Lermontov, which included wheelchair dancers in the performance.

Prominent Russian arts figures including the Bolshoi theatre chief on Wednesday condemned investigators for raiding a top Moscow theatre and the home of its outspoken director in a fraud probe.

Investigators searched the state-funded Gogol Centre theatre and the flat of its artistic director Kirill Serebrennikov in a show of force Tuesday, bringing rehearsals to a halt and confiscating actors’ phones.

“What was done to the director was wrong,” Bolshoi theatre general director Vladimir Urin told journalists, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Serebrennikov was taken in for questioning by investigators after a search of his flat that lasted several hours, although he is a witness in the case of stolen money allocated by the government for the arts.

Urin, who rarely comments on matters beyond the Bolshoi, said he had written to President Vladimir Putin protesting over the handling of the investigation.

Asked about it by journalists, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had not received any such appeal and denied the raid was excessive.

Police have arrested two people in connection with the probe, Moscow investigators said Wednesday, naming them as an accountant and a former director of a company founded by Serebrennikov.

Investigators said they were suspected of embezzling around 200 million rubles ($3.5 million at the current exchange rate) allocated for popularisation of the arts between 2011 and 2014.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the Gogol Centre theatre on Tuesday evening, with some calling the raid a politically motivated attack on the arts, though the Kremlin denied there was “any politics” in the probe.

“Kirill Serebrennikov isn’t some starting-out artist, he’s a source of pride for Russia and well known in the world,” said popular film director Fyodor Bondarchuk outside the theatre, calling the raid “an outrage.”

“Kirill Serebrennikov is inconvenient” to the authorities, wrote arts website Afisha, calling the fraud allegations “absurd.”

Gogol Centre was previously targeted by conservative activists, who even installed a naked cutout of Serebrennikov outside, and Russia’s culture minister criticised his plays.

Serebrennikov is a theatre and film director who was appointed in 2012 to head an ailing and unpopular Soviet-era theatre, remaking it into a contemporary venue with his own radical stagings as well as hosting film and dance festivals.

In 2015 he staged the Hero of Our Time ballet at the Bolshoi theatre based on the classic novel by Mikhail Lermontov, which included wheelchair dancers in the performance.

AFP
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