MOSCOW -- A Russian judge has suspended the trial of famed theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, as she ordered new research into the activity of the film studio from which millions of rubles were allegedly embezzled.
Judge Yelena Akkuratova suspended the trial on February 5 after lawyers questioned a conclusion by experts upon which the allegation was based that Serebrennikov's Seventh Studio embezzled 133 million rubles (more than $2 million).
The document was based on data by sources the investigators themselves considered unreliable, the lawyers claimed.
Lawyer Ksenia Karpinskaya told RFE/RL that the judge gave the prosecutors and defense a deadline of February 12 to determine new experts who could testify at the trial, to prepare questions for them, and find an organization that could provide professional input.
"In fact, the judge agreed that everything the investigators had done cannot be admitted as evidence in the case," Karpinskaya said, adding that all hearings will be suspended until the conclusions of newly selected experts are made.
Serebrennikov's August 2017 arrest drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin's government.
The acclaimed 49-year-old director initially was charged with organizing the embezzlement of 68 million rubles ($1 million) in state funds granted from 2011 to 2014 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization that Serebrennikov established.
In January 2018, prosecutors raised the amount Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants are accused of embezzling to 133 million rubles ($2 million).
All four defendants -- Serebrennikov, producers Aleksei Malobrodsky and Yury Itin, and former Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum -- have pleaded not guilty.
Serebrennikov has called the trial "absurd."
A fifth person charged in the case, accountant Nina Maslyayeva, pleaded guilty and has provided testimony used as evidence against the defendants.
Maslyayeva is to be tried separately.
Serebrennikov's supporters say the case was part of a politically motivated crackdown on the arts community ahead of Russia's March 2018 presidential election in which Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who has been president or prime minister since 1999, won a fourth term in office.
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.