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Made with nepotism Anti-corruption investigators say the chief editor of ‘Russia Today’ pilfered government money allocated to a romantic comedy about the Crimean bridge

Together with her husband and relatives, media manager and RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan earned 46 million rubles (currently about $583,740) on the romantic comedy “The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love!” The lion’s share of this money was awarded non-competitively by the Russian government, according to a new investigative report by Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK).

Written by Margarita Simonyan and directed by her husband, Tigran Keosayan, the film was released in 2018. The plot follows the lives of several young people in Kerch during the construction of Russia’s bridge to annexed Crimea. The film was panned by critics and viewers (it has a 2.73-out-of-10 score at KinoPoisk and a 1.1-out-of-10 score at IMDB). A box-office bomb, it earned 70 million rubles on a total budget of 154 million rubles.

Based on FBK’s calculations, the movie’s total budget was 154 million rubles (about $2 million by today’s exchange rate). Nearly two-thirds of this money came from the federal government. According to the BBC, the funds were released at the personal request of Alexey Gromov, the Putin administration’s first deputy chief of staff, after Russia’s Cinema Fund rejected the film’s application for funding. The remaining 54 million rubles, according to Navalny’s sources, came from businesses affiliated with Arkady Rotenberg, the billionaire who built the Crimean bridge.

According to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Simonyan and her family pocketed roughly 30 percent of the money allocated to the film:

  • Margarita Simonyan, 9.1 million rubles ($115,660) — screenwriter
  • Tigran Keosayan, 13.9 million rubles ($176,645) — director
  • Alexandra Keosayan (Tigran’s daughter from his first marriage), 4 million rubles ($50,830) — director’s assistant)
  • David Keosayan (Tigran’s brother), 8 million rubles ($101,680) — general producer
  • Laura Keosayan (David’s daughter), 755,000 rubles ($9,600) — actress
  • Edmond Keosayan (David’s son), 4 million rubles — unit production manager
  • Yunona Glotova (Edmond Keosayan’s wife), 6.1 million rubles ($77,530) — executive producer
  • Alyona Khmelniktskaya (Tigran Keosayan’s ex-wife), 184,000 rubles ($2,340) — actress
The Crimean Bridge. Stolen With Love!
Alexey Navalny

At the same time, all the other actors with roles in the film received a combined 10 million rubles ($127,130). The stars of the movie, Ekaterina Shpitsa and Alexey Demidov, earned 1.8 and 1.3 million rubles ($22,900 and $16,525), respectively. Another actor in the movie, Sergey Nikonenko, confirms that he agreed to join the cast for half his normal salary (881,000 rubles, or $11,200). Other cast members approached by the website Open Media declined to comment on FBK’s report.

“These tens of millions of rubles paid out in fees aren’t just an indication of how irrationally Simonyan and Keosayan value their work; they’re a means of stealing. A handful of people connected by family ties agreed to inflate their rates and pay each other many times more money and grab funds allocated by the state for a film,” says Navalny.

Summary by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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