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Russian court dismisses case against famed theater director

FILE - In this Friday, April 12, 2019 file photo, Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov walks to attend a court hearing in Moscow, Russia. A Moscow court has dismissed the case against an acclaimed theater director, two years after he was accused of embezzlement and put under house arrest. The court, which has been holding hearings in the trial of Kirill Serebrennikov and his associates for ten months, ruled Wednesday, Sept. 11 to return the case to prosecutors due to a lack of evidence. Serebrennikov and his associates were facing charges of embezzling state funding for a theater project. Serebrennikov dismissed the charges as trumped up.

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Wednesday dismissed the case against an acclaimed theater director, two years after he was accused of embezzlement and put under house arrest.

The court, which has been holding hearings in the trial of Kirill Serebrennikov and his associates for 10 months, ruled the case should be returned to prosecutors due to a lack of evidence in the indictment.

Serebrennikov, 50, arguably Russia's most celebrated theater director, and his associates were facing charges of embezzling state funding for a theater project. He had rejected the accusations as absurd, and many in Russia saw the charges as punishment for his anti-establishment views. His productions, ranging from drama to opera and movies, have mocked official lies, corruption and growing social conservatism.

Serebrennikov, was accused of embezzling 133 million rubles (about $2 million) of state funding. Investigators initially claimed that the director and his associates stole the funds allocated for staging several productions, claiming that one of these plays never saw the light of day — when in fact it was staged to critical acclaim. The investigators later withdrew that claim, and have never clarified where they believe money was stolen from.

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After spending a night in custody, Serebrennikov was placed under house arrest in August 2017. He was only released in April and pledged not to leave the country. Several of his associates spent months in jail.

Top members of the Russian artistic community have continuously appealed to President Vladimir Putin to set Serebrennikov free, and many prominent international artistic figures have joined the call.

Putin's cultural adviser, Vladimir Tolstoy, in remarks to the Interfax news agency on Wednesday hailed the court's ruling as "great news."

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