Russian police raid top ballet theatre in fraud probe
Russian police investigating a major fraud case on Thursday raided the offices of a top Saint Petersburg ballet and opera theatre that has snapped up stars from the Bolshoi.
Police said they searched the office of the Mikhailovsky Theatre general director Vladimir Kekhman as part of a probe into the fruit-importing group he founded, JFC group.
Known as the "banana king," Kekhman, 44, made his fortune from importing fresh fruit to Russia before becoming a patron of the arts, taking over the theatre as general director in 2007 and refitting the crumbling 19th-century building.
Defying initial scepticism, he turned around the ballet and opera theatre's fortunes, making it a serious rival to the city's dominant Mariinsky theatre and acquiring ballet stars including Ivan Vasiliev and Natalya Osipova from the Bolshoi.
Police including interior ministry fraud specialists "are carrying out raids at the homes of the ex-management of JFC (Joint Fruit Company) Group, in the company's offices and warehouses and also in the working office of the general director of the Mikhailovsky theatre," the interior ministry said in a statement.
The company's management and its owners received large loans from a number of banks but "not intending to carry out the loan obligations... went to court in February 2012 to declare the company bankrupt, causing losses to lenders of more than 10 billion rubles ($332 million)," the ministry alleged.
To enforce a court decision, more than 400 million rubles ($13.3 million) has been frozen in bank accounts, the ministry said.
The embattled group founded by Kekhman asked a court to declare a number of its subsidiaries bankrupt in February last year.
Its debts to Russian banks and organisations in November totalled $1.3 billion, Kommersant business daily reported.
Kekhman said: "I completely support all the investigators' activity and have an interest in their effectiveness," according to a statement released by the Mikhailovsky.
"I am outraged at the facts and scale of abuse in the company," Kekhman said.
The Mikhailovsky theatre said in a brief statement that the raid on Kekhman's office "was not linked to the economic or any other activity of the theatre".
Russia's ballet world is finding itself in an unwelcome spotlight after the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director Sergei Filin last week suffered serious facial injuries in an acid attack that he has linked to his work.
© 2013 AFP