MOSCOW Russian dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to ordering an acid attack that nearly blinded the Bolshoi ballet's artistic director, and a jobless former convict accused of carrying it out told a court he had acted alone.
Guards brought Dmitrichenko and the suspected attacker, Yuri Zarutsky, handcuffed into a Moscow court room and locked them in a metal cage with a third defendant at the start of a case that has tarnished the reputation of a prime Russian cultural symbol.
All face 12 years jail if convicted of intentionally inflicting grave bodily harm on Sergei Filin in the January17 attack that shocked Russia.
Dmitrichenko, looking pale and reading out a pre-written statement from a piece of paper, denied the charges. He had said previously that he wanted Filin to be roughed up but had been shocked to learn that acid was used.
"What happened to Filin is a result of Zarutsky's savage conduct, not a result of my activities. I had no hostile attitude towards Filin," Dmitrichenko said.
"Zarutsky... heeding his own motives, committed this dangerous act, which we never discussed since I had no intent, and could not have had one to commit such act in any form."
Prosecutors say Zarutsky attacked Filin on his return home from the Bolshoi late in the evening and left the 43-year-old in the snow, writhing in agony.
"I admit guilt," Zarutsky, wearing jeans and a sweater, said from the cage.
"I admit being guilty of attacking Filin. But I do not admit to doing it in cahoots with Pavel Dmitrichenko and Andrei Lipatov," he said, referring to the other two defendants.
Zarutsky, 35, in the past spent 7 years in jail for battery, his defense lawyer Sergei Kuprianov said.
He said under Russian law, the maximum jail sentence would be lower if the judge ruled the suspects were not acting as a group and found only one person responsible.
Dmitrichenko and Zarutsky sat at different ends of the court room cage and did not speak to one another, separated by Lipatov who is accused of driving the attacker to and from the site.
Dmitrichenko said during pre-trial hearings he had become acquainted with Zarutsky at his country house outside Moscow and had complained to him before the attack over what he described as favoritism by Filin in his powerful role.
Filin was not present during the hearing. His lawyer said he was in Germany for more medical treatment on his eyes after more than 20 surgeries to save his sight and treat his face.
The scandal led to the dismissal of Anatoly Iksanov, veteran head of the Bolshoi, a colonnaded building near the redbrick walls of the Kremlin. The new head, Vladimir Urin, hopes to turn the spotlight back to the stage from behind-the-scenes drama.
Prior to his departure, Iksanov suggested that another top ballet dancer, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, might have played a role in inciting the attack. Tsiskaridze denied playing any part and, when his contract was not renewed in June, accused Iksanov of conducting a witch-hunt to hound him out of the theatre.
On Monday, Tsiskaridze was appointed acting director at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Russia's second city, St Petersburg.
(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ralph Boulton)