MOSCOW (Reuters) - A dancer accused of organising an attack that nearly blinded the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director admitted on Thursday he had wanted him beaten up, but said he was shocked when he heard that his face had been splashed with acid.
Police formally charged Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko and two suspected accomplices in the January 17 attack, which stunned Russia, revealed discord in the theatre and left Sergei Filin with severe facial burns.
The charges of causing grievous bodily harm were announced after a Moscow court ordered the men held in custody for six weeks while authorities continue to investigate. All three could face prison terms of up to 12 years if convicted, police said.
Brought to a drab court in handcuffs, the slight, dishevelled Dmitrichenko told the judge he had agreed when the man accused of carrying out the attack suggested roughing Filin up, but did not tell him to throw acid in Filin’s face.
“When I heard what happened to Sergei, I was just in shock. I could not believe that the man who proposed beating him up went ahead and did this thing with acid,” said Dmitrichenko, 29, dressed in a black hooded winter coat and a striped sweater and speaking from behind the bars of a courtroom cage.
Dmitrichenko, who made a career playing villains such as the murderous medieval Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible, said that when the assailant had proposed that he “hit him (Filin) in the head, beat him, I agreed to this suggestion.” He also said he told the attacker when Filin left the Bolshoi late on Jan 17.
A masked assailant called Filin’s name as he returned home that night and threw acid in his face from a glass jar, leaving him writhing in pain in the snow. Filin, 42, is being treated in Germany after several operations in Russia to save his eyesight and is expected to return to work later this year.
The attack exposed bitter infighting at the Bolshoi and compromised the reputation of the colonnaded theatre near the Kremlin in central Moscow, an enduring symbol of Russian culture that was founded in 1776.
Dmitrichenko was arrested on Tuesday and admitted to organising the attack in a police video shown on Wednesday, but said he did not mean for it to go so far.
“It is absolutely untrue that I ordered him to pour acid on Sergei Filin,” he said in court on Thursday.
The judge denied Dmitrichenko bail and granted a request from prosecutors who called the dancer a flight risk, remanding him in custody until mid-April. The dancer said he would not appeal.
In the police video, alleged accomplice Yury Zarutsky said he had thrown the acid at Filin, and Andrei Lipatov said he had driven the attacker to and from the scene. Both men were also ordered held in custody on Thursday.
Dmitrichenko’s lawyer said prosecutors intend to charge him with a crime that is punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
The dancer’s testimony opened up a rift with Zarutsky, 35, whom Dmitrichenko said he knew from a dacha, or country house, community in the Moscow suburbs.
“He’s making me into a scapegoat,” the leather-jacketed Zarutsky said, adding a expletive as he was led through the courthouse. He flashed his middle finger at reporters from the courtroom cage.
Moscow police said on Thursday they believed Dmitrichenko had paid his alleged accomplices 50,000 roubles. Police have alleged that Zarutsky had bought acid at a car parts store outside Moscow and made it more potent by boiling off water.
A source at the Bolshoi on Wednesday said the outspoken dancer was angry that his partner, ballerina Anzhelina Vorontsova, had missed out on top roles including the lead in Swan Lake.
“This is a terrible story for the Bolshoi Theatre,” a Bolshoi violinist, Roman Denisov, said at the courthouse. “It is a black mark on the Bolshoi Theatre, a disgrace.”
As the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director, Filin, 42, has the power to make or break careers. Tales of his tight grip on the troupe and disagreements with dancers have been widely reported.
Dmitrichenko did not mention Vorontsova in court. He said he had told Zarutsky about “the politics of the Bolshoi Theatre, the corrupt activities that take place at the Bolshoi Theatre”.
He accused Filin of playing favourites in the distribution of financial grants, saying he believed “money was taken away from (some) dancers in favour of people who were interesting to Sergei,” but gave no details.
“Sergei ... surrounded himself with people who could not resist and always agreed with all the machinations involving money,” Dmitrichenko said. He said he had been ejected from a commission on grants after trying to change things.
Filin’s aide at the Bolshoi, Dilyara Timergazina, suggested the accusations were unfounded, saying a six-member commission distributes grants according an “absolutely transparent” system whose results are determined by a computer programme.
She told Reuters that Dmitrichenko had come to the last commission of his own accord and that he and the ballet troupe head had “staged a scandal, demanding the redistribution of grants”.
Andrei Bolotin, another Bolshoi Ballet dancer, on Thursday expressed sympathy for Dmitrichenko, saying he was dismayed by the sight of his haggard colleague in a police video.
“This is just one quarter of the Pavel Dmitrichenko we know,” he told journalists at the court. “He looked awful and my skin crawls at the thought of what he has gone through.”
A lawyer for Filin, Tatyana Stukalova, said her client was not surprised when he heard that Dmitrichenko was suspected, Interfax reported, but she also suggested the atmosphere of danger at the Bolshoi ran deeper than a missed role or two.
“Threats against people who worked and still work at the Bolshoi Theatre began long ago, two years ago ... One should not speak now of only one motive, that it all occurred because of Ms. Vorontsova,” Stukalova said on state TV on Wednesday.
“We believe the investigators still have a great deal of work to do in order to establish everything,” she said. (Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Jon Hemming)