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Russian film and theatre director detained over embezzlement claims


Kirill Serebrennikov is one of Russia's most venerated theatre and film directors (AP)

Kirill Serebrennikov is one of Russia's most venerated theatre and film directors (AP)

Kirill Serebrennikov is one of Russia's most venerated theatre and film directors (AP)

Russian investigators have detained one of the country's most prominent directors in connection with embezzlement charges.

Kirill Serebrennikov, known for bold productions that poke fun at Russia's growing social conservatism, is one of the country's most venerated theatre and film directors whose work spans from drama to opera.

His movie The Student won the Francois Chalais prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

He is suspected of embezzling 68 million rubles (£900,000) of government funds earmarked for a production at his theatre, according to the Investigative Committee, which looks into high-profile crime.

The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Serebrennikov's lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov as saying his client was detained in St Petersburg, where he was shooting a movie about a Soviet rock star, and escorted to Moscow.

The 47-year-old director was briefly detained and questioned in May but investigators stopped short of saying they suspected he was involved.

The theatre's accountant and a senior manager are in custody and another manager is under house arrest pending the probe. Russia media reported earlier this month that the accountant had given evidence against the director.

Serebrennikov has denied any wrongdoing. His supporters have dismissed the investigation as payback from the Kremlin's conservative circles for his satire of Russian officialdom.

His productions have sold out for years. While he was known to enjoy support and protection of liberal-leaning government officials, he has often been the target of conservative activists and politicians.

In July, the famous Bolshoi Theatre cancelled a much-anticipated ballet directed by Serebrennikov three days before the opening night, prompting many in Moscow's art scene to speak of a return to censorship.

The Bolshoi denied reports that the show had been scrapped because of its frank portrayal of the protagonist dancer's gay relationships.

The detention of one of Russia's most sought-after directors has shocked the art community.

Film director Pavel Lungin compared Russia's law enforcement agencies to a "Biblical beast" and said on Ekho Moskvy radio station that arresting Serebrennikov does not make sense "because he is not a dangerous criminal".

A court is expected to rule in the next 48 hours whether to keep Serebrennikov in custody.