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Key prosecution witness testifies in Seventh Studio case

Source: Meduza
Yury Itin, Sofya Apfelbaum, Alexey Malobrodsky, and Kirill Serebrennikov attend a court hearing on November 7, 2018
Sergey Fadeychev / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Employees of the Russian art house “Seventh Studio” were accused in 2017 of siphoning 133 million rubles, or approximately 2 million dollars, from government funds provided for a theater project. Numerous prominent figures in the media and the arts have since argued that the case is politically motivated. The studio’s founder, Kirill Serebrennikov, as well as all but one of its employees have denied the allegations against them. Nina Maslyaeva, the organization’s former chief accountant, is the only exception. A trial in the Seventh Studio case is ongoing in Moscow’s Meshchansky Court, and Valery Pedchenko, a key witness for the prosecution, began testifying today. Here, Meduza summarizes Pedchenko’s claims.

Pedchenko’s job was to exchange the studio’s funds for cash

Pedchenko told the court that Nina Maslyaeva asked him in 2012 to find firms that would be able to liquidate Seventh Studio’s funds and provide cash that would be used to fulfill the organization’s needs. This scheme allegedly involved several people, not only Pedchenko. The witness said his acquaintance, whose last name is Doroshenko, handled the exchanges themselves and then gave cash to Pedchenko, who transferred it to Seventh Studio employees. Pedchenko testified that the amounts he gave to the project’s accountants ranged from several hundred thousand rubles to multiple millions at a time.

Pedchenko claimed he knew the defendants personally

When Judge Irina Akkuratova asked Pedchenko whom he recognized among those present in the court, the witness said he knew Kirill Serebrennikov, Seventh Studio’s former general producer Alexey Malobrodsky, and its current general director, Yury Itin. He said he met Itin in 2011 when the latter worked in Moscow’s Modern Theater. Court documents indicate that the witness was also introduced to Malobrodsky and then met with him and Serebrennikov in another contemporary art institution, Vinzavod. Pedchenko noted that he had not mentioned the meeting with Serebrennikov during the case’s pretrial investigation but remembered it when he recognized the celebrated director in the courtroom.

Serebrennikov has testified that he had only seen Pedchenko in court and did not know or recognize him, though he admitted that he met with a large number of people on a daily basis in the course of his work. Malobrodsky also said he was not acquainted with Pedchenko. Itin will testify at the end of the current trial.

The witness said he heard Seventh Studio employees planning to purchase an apartment in Berlin

From the very beginning of the Seventh Studio proceedings, investigators emphasized that Serebrennikov owns an apartment in Berlin that, according to Russia’s Investigative Committee chair Alexandra Bastrykina, he purchased “during the period when the embezzlement was taking place.” Pedchenko said he overheard a phone conversation in which he claims that purchase was discussed: “[Producer Yekaterina] Voronova, when she was talking to Serebrennikov on the phone, asked him how much money they would need, I think, for Berlin. […] I understood at the time that it was for acquiring real estate.”

Later on in the hearing, Serebrennikov’s attorney Dmitry Kharitonov read a selection of case materials out loud. They indicated that Seventh Studio began liquidating funds in July of 2012 well after the apartment in question was purchased at the end of May. “I’m not in the loop,” Pedchenko responded.

Pedchenko claimed that Serebrennikov dealt with the studio’s accounting himself

Pedchenko said that although Itin was formally appointed as the studio’s general director, he was unable to take care of every logistical matter related to the studio because he was also working as the director of Yaroslavl’s Volkovsky Theater and was often on the road. “All the [cost] estimates for events, for every show, were put together by—I don’t remember exactly what the position was—the general manager or the producer, and they were confirmed by Serebrennikov directly,” the witness said. When the judge asked Pedchenko whether the studio’s leadership understood that he would be liquidating funds for them, he answered that they discussed “liquidation exclusively.”

Serebrennikov testified that he never participated in the administration of Seventh Studio and only worked as its artistic director. “My authority did not include any financial instruction,” the director said. He added that he did not give logistical orders to Itin or the accountant Maslyaeva. According to Serebrennikov, he did not know anything about the team’s agreement to liquidate funds and never gave orders to use cash exclusively in the studio’s dealings. 

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Defense attorneys were not on board with Pedchenko’s testimony

The prosecution’s decision to call its key witness to the stand was a surprise to the defense. During the trial’s first hearing, which took place in November, it was decided that the case’s materials would be read in court in full and that witnesses would be questioned later. Nonetheless, although the court has not yet heard 93 of the 258 volumes of case materials available, the prosecution insisted on questioning Pedchenko now. Defense attorneys argued that they were not given adequate time to prepare for the witness’s appearance, but the judge disagreed.

The defense was given time to formulate its cross-examination of Pedchenko only at the end of today’s hearing, but its attorneys were unable to ask a portion of the questions they prepared because a recess in the trial was announced until January 18. Pedchenko said he would likely be unable to attend that hearing due to an illness. According to Irina Poverinova, an attorney for defendant Sofya Apfelbaum, the witness was “lying baldly” and “will face legal consequences.”

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Translation by Hilah Kohen