Russian court extends house arrest of top director

Moscow (AFP) –


A Russian court on Tuesday extended the house arrest of acclaimed theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov, in a controversial fraud case that has shocked the arts community.

A judge at Moscow's Basmanny district Court ruled that Serebrennikov must remain under house arrest until January 19, 2018, RIA Novosti news agency reported from the court.

Back in August Serebrennikov was placed under house arrest until October 19, accused of defrauding the state of over $1 million in arts funding. Three of his former staff have been arrested

The director -- who heads Moscow's Gogol Centre theatre and has staged productions at the Bolshoi theatre -- has denounced the charges as "absurd".

On Tuesday, journalists and supporters packed the courtroom for a hearing lasting some six hours.

The defence team presented letters from more than 70 arts figures vouching for Serebrennikov's good behaviour if released, ranging from a crooner who is also a pro-Kremlin MP to a popular rapper, Meduza news site reported.

However investigators asked for his house arrest to be extended, arguing that Serebrennikov could attempt to flee since he has a residence permit in Latvia and property in Germany,

"This is a kind of complete trickery, (saying) that we could flee," Serebrennikov said in court, pointing out his passport has been confiscated.

"What's more I have an interest in the truth prevailing, in the truth being uncovered," he added.

He said he needed to be able to work since his staging of a ballet about Russian dance legend Rudolf Nureyev is due to premiere at the Bolshoi in December and he wants to complete shooting on a film.

Serebrennikov suggested the court could even provide armed guards to ensure he does not flee, but his request was turned down.

He alleged that even before the case had begun, he was aware of being under surveillance, but had opted not to leave Russia.

"I realised I was being bugged before, several years ago -- bugs, external surveillance," Serebrennikov said, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.

"Waiters would say 'there's a microphone stuck under your table.'"

"You only run away when you are guilty."

Critics view the case as the latest crackdown on liberal culture in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

International stars including Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen have called for Serebrennikov's release without charge.

A Kremlin spokesman has denied that the case has anything to do with "politicisation, censorship", saying it is linked to "purely financial questions".