MOSCOW Russian dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko denied any guilt as he went on trial on Tuesday over an acid attack that nearly blinded the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Dmitrichenko, 29, was led into a Moscow courtroom in handcuffs to face trial for the assault last winter that exposed bitter rivalries behind the scenes at one of Russia's great cultural institutions.
He and two alleged accomplices face up to 12 years in prison if they are convicted of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm in the attack on Sergei Filin on January 17.
"I do not admit that I am guilty," Dmitrichenko, who had dark rings under his eyes, told journalists after officers led him and two co-defendants into a metal courtroom cage. He looked at his parents and gave them a brief smile.
Dmitrichenko, who wore a sweater, shook his head at other questions from reporters and said he would have his say in court. But the trial was adjourned until October 29 because of the absence of a lawyer for one of the other two defendants.
Filin, whose position gave him power to make or break careers, was returning home when a masked assailant called his name and threw acid in his face from a jar, leaving him writhing in the snow and calling for help.
At a hearing in March, Dmitrichenko said he had wanted Filin to be roughed up but had been shocked to learn that acid was used.
"Pasha is our third child. Our beloved son. The youngest and the most talented one. I think my son is not guilty," Dmitrichenko's mother Nadezhda said in the courtroom, referring to her son by the diminutive form.
Dmitrichenko, who has been in custody since March, is standing trial with Yuri Zarutsky, the alleged attacker, and Andrei Lipatov, who is accused of driving the assailant to and from the scene.
"I hope the court will be able to distance itself from the public resonance of this case and deliver a well-grounded and just verdict," Dmitrichenko's lawyer, Sergei Kadyrov, said on Monday.
Born into a family of dancers, Dmitrichenko played roles including a murderous Russian monarch in Ivan the Terrible and a villain in Swan Lake. On the Bolshoi Theatre's website, his picture remains alongside other leading soloists in the renowned ballet troupe.
"A crime was committed. It must be solved. If Pavel's guilt is proven, he should be punished," Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova said on Monday. "In any case, for us this situation is tragic - it involves our friends and colleagues."
In court Dmitrichenko said he had told Zarutsky about alleged corruption at the Bolshoi and accused Filin of playing favourites in the distribution of financial grants.
The scandal over the attack has damaged the theatre's reputation and that of its management and stars.
The Russian government dismissed the Bolshoi's longtime head Anatoly Iksanov in July, and earlier this year the theatre declined to renew the contract of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a top dancer who feuded with Filin and Iksanov.
After months of treatment in Germany, Filin, 42, was back at the Bolshoi last month at the ceremonial opening of its 238th season, with dark glasses shielding his damaged eyes.
But with more operations expected on top of the more than 20 he has already undergone, Novikova has said it is unclear to what extent Filin will be able to resume his duties. (Editing by Steve Gutterman and Giles Elgood)
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