Kirill Serebrennikov has always been a polarizing artist. A favorite of Russia’s liberal intelligentsia, he has been scorned for years by cultural conservatives. Now, even his very public embezzlement case has divided society.
On Friday morning, Moscow’s Meshchansky District Court found that Serebrennikov, along with his fellow accused from the Seventh Studio theater group, had stolen around 129 million rubles ($1.8 million) of government money granted for their Platform drama project.
The artistic elite in Moscow has rallied around Serebrennikov, with the likes of rapper Oxxxymiron and ‘Vikings’ star Danila Kozlovsky pledging their support for the director. His defenders say the charges are politically motivated, inspired by his works’ anti-establishment themes and his appearance at Moscow protests. For his part, Serebrennikov has labeled them “absurd.” He insists that the money, made up of state grants, was used properly.
With a crowd gathered outside, the judge announced that, Serebrennikov – along with his fellow Seventh Studio board members Yuri Itin and Alexey Malobrodsky – was guilty of theft. The other accused, Sofia Apfelbaum, an employee of the Ministry of Culture, was declared to have been an accomplice without knowing “the criminal intentions and the criminal nature of what was happening.” She was found guilty of negligence.
“Serebrennikov carried out the general management of the criminal scheme,” magistrate Olesya Mendeleeva announced, concluding that the group acted “with the aim of embezzling budgetary funds.”
According to investigators, employees of the Seventh Studio appropriated the money through fictitious contracts and overestimated costs. The four accused all deny their guilt.
Reacting to the news, the Kremlin said the conviction marks an opportune moment for the government to analyze its spending on culture. “Serebrennikov’s case is an occasion to carefully study how public funds are spent in cultural institutions in order to reduce potential corruption,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “This is the function of the Ministry of Culture.”
This story is developing