A Moscow court placed the head of the Russian Academic Youth Theatre under house arrest on Friday as part of a widening criminal case involving leading cultural figures in Russia that many say is politically motivated.
Sofiya Apfelbaum, a former official at the Ministry of Culture responsible for distributing state grants, was detained a day earlier on fraud charges.
Investigators allege that Apfelbaum and others, including prominent theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov, conspired to steal more than 68 million rubles ($1.2 million) from government funding for arts projects. Apfelbaum denies the charges.
The case has sparked outrage in Russia with supporters of Serebrennikov alleging the case is politically motivated and fuelled by conservative anger at the Gogol Centre, Serebrennikov’s progressive theatre in Moscow.
The Russian Academic Youth Theatre, where Apfelbaum was appointed director in 2015, was set up in 1921 and produced some of the Soviet Union’s most famous actors and actresses. Its premises are in the centre of Moscow, across the road from the Bolshoi Theatre.
“We are convinced of the groundlessnessss of the accusations against her. Like all of the theatre community we are sure of the flawlessness of Sofiya Mikhailovna’s reputation,” the Russian Academic Youth Theatre’s artistic director Aleksei Borodin said in a statement on the theatre’s Facebook page on Thursday.
The allegations against Apfelbaum and the other defendants in the case focus on a theatre group called Seventh Studio that was founded by Serebrennikov in 2012.
Apfelbaum is the sixth person to be charged. The others include Serebrennikov, Alexey Malobrodsky, the former general producer for Seventh Studio, Yuri Itin, the former director of Seventh Studios, Nina Maslyaeva, former accountant for Seventh Studios and Yekaterina Voronova, a former Seventh Studio producer.
All are currently under arrest in Russia, apart from Voronova who has fled the country and is being sought on an international arrest warrant.
Only Maslyaeva has admitted guilt in the case. The ex-accountant has reached a deal with investigators and is providing evidence against her co-accused.