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Kremlin - no politics behind arrest of prominent director

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Wednesday the arrest of prominent Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who has a history of criticising authority, was about embezzlement and had nothing to do with politics or censorship.

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Serebrennikov, an award-winning film and theatre director who was detained by investigators last week, has used his work to poke fun at the powers that be, lashing out at what he sees as the pernicious role of the church and state in Russian society.

Russia’s Investigative Committee has said it suspects him of embezzling at least 68 million roubles (897,554.94 pounds) in state funds earmarked for an art project. He denies the charges.

The case has raised an outcry among members of the country’s liberal cultural elite who said they feared the director was being persecuted for his edgy work.

But the Kremlin denied this.

“Those using state funds certainly should correspond to certain criteria of control and accountability. This is an absolutely normal practice,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a conference call with reporters.

“One should not indulge in empty talk about any political overtones,” he said, calling such allegations absolutely irrelevant to purely financial matters.

“There is no talk about censorship,” he said, adding: “Naturally, when certain grants are provided, the state has the right to point out certain themes which are of special interest to the state. But it would be incorrect to call it a certain indication of censorship.”

Last week, court ordered Serebrennikov to be placed under house arrest until he goes on trial.

It refused bail despite several character witness statements in his favour from high-profile figures in the arts world, and an offer from one to pay any amount of bail.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov Editing by Jeremy Gaunt