An accountant implicated in a high-profile embezzlement case involving Kirill Serebrennikov has told a court in Moscow that the famous Russian theater director and his co-defendants had masterminded the scheme.
Serebrennikov had been under house arrest for nearly 20 months on charges of embezzling 133 million rubles (about $2 million) of state funding for a theater project.
He has rejected the accusations as absurd, and many in Russia saw the charges as punishment for his antiestablishment views. On April 8, a Moscow court freed him from house arrest, a verdict that followed longtime calls for his release from leading cultural figures worldwide.
Nina Maslyayeva, a former accountant for the non-profit organization that Serebrennikov created, appeared in a Moscow court on April 11 in a separate trial. She is the only person in the case who has pleaded guilty and provided testimony.
In court on April 11, Maslyayeva said she was a mere accomplice while Serebrennikov and the other three co-defendants were the masterminds behind the embezzlement scheme.
"A chief bookkeeper cannot withdraw cash or embezzle money without instructions given by supervisors... My guilt is that I was an accomplice, but the idea to commit that crime came from Serebrennikov, [Yury] Itin, [Aleksei] Malobrodsky, and others," Maslyayeva said, pleading with the court not to give her "a harsh punishment."
Judge Tatyana Izotova said that Maslyayeva's case may be returned back to the prosecutor's office.
Serebrennikov, his producers, Itin and Malobrodsky, as well as a former Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum went on trial in October 2018.
All four have maintained their innocence.
Serebrennikov's August 2017 arrest drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures at odds with Putin's government.
The acclaimed 49-year-old director initially was charged with organizing the embezzlement of 68 million rubles (more than $1 million) in state funds granted from 2011 to 2014 to Serebrennikov's Seventh Studio.
In January 2018, prosecutors raised the amount Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants were accused of embezzling to 133 million rubles ($2 million).
Serebrennikov's supporters say the case was part of a crackdown on the arts community ahead of the March 2018 presidential election in which Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who was first elected president in 2000, won a fourth term.
Serebrennikov had previously taken part in antigovernment protests and voiced concerns about the increasing influence in Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose ties with the state have increased under Putin.
On April 8, Serebrennikov, Itin, and Apfelbaum were released from house arrest and ordered not to leave Moscow. Malobrodsky had already been barred from leaving the city.