Prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Russian director

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Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has called the charges of embezzling of government funds 'absurd'

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has called the charges of embezzling of government funds 'absurd'

Russian prosecutors on Monday called for a six-year prison sentence for acclaimed director Kirill Serebrennikov, accused of embezzling public funds in a case that has stirred criticism at home and abroad.

Serebrennikov is charged with creating an organised criminal group with his colleagues and embezzling more than $2 million of state funding for a theatre project called Platforma.

He has insisted the money was used properly and calls the charges "absurd".

"There is not one piece of evidence proving my dishonest behaviour," Serebrennikov said during the hearing.

He said the prosecution's case is based on testimony of "accountants and their friends" who were "under pressure from investigators" and "lied out of fear for themselves".

He called the accusations of the prosecutors and the culture ministry that he misappropriated the money "laughable".

The prosecution asked the judge to sentence Serebrennikov to six years in prison and a fine of 800,000 rubles ($11,536), an AFP reporter in the Moscow court said.

The 50-year-old head of Moscow's Gogol Centre theatre -- who supporters say is facing politically motivated charges -- was detained in August 2017.

In April last year, he and his co-defendants Sofia Apfelbaum and Yury Itin were released from house arrest in a ruling which allowed the director to leave his apartment in Moscow and communicate freely.

- International support -

The prosecution on Monday requested jail terms of four years and fines of 200,000 rubles each for Apfelbaum and Itin.

It requested five years in prison and a 300,000-ruble fine for a fourth defendant, Alexey Malobrodsky.

The court will pronounce its verdict and sentence on Friday.

The embezzlement trial has attracted international attention and calls for his release everywhere from Hollywood to Cannes.

This week over three thousand cultural figures in Russia signed an open letter to Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova, calling on her to "withdraw the lawsuit" against Serebrennikov to end the criminal case, saying it is based on incorrect calculations.

In 2012, Serebrennikov was appointed as the director of the small state-funded Gogol Centre, which he turned into one of Moscow's best theatres and a favourite of the liberal intelligentsia.

Yet Serebrennikov's work has angered cultural conservatives in Russia who see his frequent use of on-stage nudity and obscene language, as well as modern adaptations of classics, as a step too far.

The director had continued working even during his house arrest, among other productions directing an opera in Germany by having his lawyer shuttle a USB stick with instructions to singers and designers.

He has also had a successful career as a film director, picking up awards at international festivals, including Cannes.

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov has called the charges of embezzling of government funds 'absurd'

Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov is charged with creating an organised criminal group with his colleagues and embezzling more than $2 million of state funding for a theatre project