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Russian theater director sentenced to probation in controversial embezzlement case

Source: Meduza

On Friday, June 26, a Moscow court announced verdicts in the controversial “Seventh Studio” case involving the alleged embezzlement of almost 129 million rubles (about $1.9 million) allocated to the Culture Ministry’s “Platforma” project (a state-led contemporary art incubator). All four defendants — director Kirill Serebrennikov, former Culture Ministry official Sofia Apfelbaum, former “Seventh Studio” general producer Alexey Malobrodsky, and the studio’s former CEO, Yuri Itin — maintain their innocence.

Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court convicted all four individuals, sentencing Serebrennikov, Malobrodsky and Itin to probation, along with the additional penalty of fines and being banned from occupying positions in state institutions.

The court sentenced Serebrennikov to three years probation, along with an 800,000 ruble fine ($11,500).

Update: Kirill Serebrennikov’s defense plans to appeal the sentence, his lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov told RBC. Kommersant later reported that the ban on holding positions in state cultural institutions only applies to Alexey Malobrodsky and Yuri Itin, and not Serebrennikov.

Itin was sentenced to three years probation and a 200,000 ruble fine ($2,875), while Malobrodsky was sentenced to two years probation and a 300,000 ruble fine ($4,313).

Apfelbaum was found guilty of negligence, rather than fraud, but her imposed fine was cancelled due to the statute of limitations.

Shortly before sentences were read aloud, Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova released a statement accusing Serebrennikov of “causing major harm to the state.” Four days earlier, more than 3,700 cultural figures addressed an open letter to Lyubimova, citing supposedly exonerating case evidence and urging her to withdraw the Culture Ministry’s criminal charges against Serebrennikov and the other “Platforma” suspects.

Ahead of the verdict, Alexander Avdeyev (who oversaw the Culture Ministry during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency and greenlit Serebrennikov’s arts festival in 2011) urged Lyubimova to rescind the ministry’s charges and warned that an unjust ruling will “cast a shadow” over the rule of law in Russia and be a “shock” to the country’s civil society.

As is customary in Russian sentencing hearings, the Meshchansky District Court judge spent several hours reading her ruling aloud. Throughout that time, hundreds of supporters of the Seventh Studio defendants assembled outside the courthouse, despite punishing heat and humidity. 

First launched in 2017, the case against Kirill Serebrennikov and his alleged co-conspirators has major cultural significance in Russia, where the film and stage director once enjoyed the state’s financial support and political favor. In a country without significant private funding for the arts, Serebrennikov’s past collaboration with the authorities and subsequent prosecution have occasioned much soul searching inside Russia’s theater avant-garde.

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