MOSCOW (AP) – A judge in Moscow sentenced a critically acclaimed Russian theater director of embezzling state funds and sentenced Friday to a three-year suspended sentence in a case generally considered politically motivated.
Kirill Serebrennikov, 50, one of Russia’s leading theater and film directors, and his associates were found guilty of fraud and embezzlement of 129 million rubles (over $ 1.8 million) in government funding for a theater project.
The judge said “reform is possible without a real (prison) term,” fined Serebrennikov and two other defendants, and ordered them to repay the embezzled funds. Prosecutors had requested a six-year prison sentence for Serebrennikov.
A fourth defendant, former government official Sophia Apfelbaum, was sentenced for negligence and fine; the fine was immediately lifted due to a limitation period.
The money was for staging several productions, and researchers initially claimed that the director and his co-workers stole money through a show that never saw the light of day. In fact, the production was praised. The investigators later withdrew their claim and have since not made it clear where they believe money was stolen.
Serebrennikov had dismissed the charges as absurd; Many in Russia saw the charges as punishment for his anti-establishment views. His productions, ranging from drama to opera and films, deride official lies, corruption and growing social conservatism.
The director was under house arrest for almost two years between August 2017 and April 2019. Some of his employees have been in prison for months.
Serebrennikov’s arrest caused shock waves across the country. Top members of the Russian artistic community repeatedly called on President Vladimir Putin and other senior government officials to drop the case, and many prominent international artistic figures joined the campaign.
A crowd of Serebrennikov supporters gathered in front of the courthouse on Friday and greeted the director with applause when he came out. Serebrennikov thanked them for their “belief in our innocence and understanding of what’s going on.”
“Truth must be fought for,” he said.
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