Bolshoi ballet chief: threats preceded acid attack

AP News
Posted: Mar 12, 2013 1:47 PM

MOSCOW (AP) — The artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet said the dancer arrested on suspicion of giving the go-ahead to an acid attack that badly burned his eyes and face had long threatened him.

Dressed in black and wearing shades, Sergei Filin told Russian state television in remarks broadcast Tuesday that someone whom he wouldn't name might have pushed leading soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko into staging the attack.

"It appears that someone had worked really well on that and pushed him into doing it, since every time, every moment, my every meeting with Pavel Dmitrichenko meant another threat, another show of dislike," Filin said.

He added that Dmitrichenko, who has recently starred in the title part of "Ivan the Terrible," was part of a "narrow circle of people who openly disliked me and threatened me and many other people."

Filin, 42, spoke energetically and skin on his face no longer looked red and swollen as in early February, when he was last seen in public before flying to Germany for continuing treatment.

Dmitrichenko told a Moscow court last week that he gave his blessing to the Jan. 17 attack, but never expected that the assailant would go as far as to throw acid in Filin's face. He said he was angry at Filin for what he described as corruption and favoritism at the theater.

Dmitrichenko was arrested by police along with the alleged perpetrator of the attack and another man accused of serving as a getaway driver.

On Thursday, 300 Bolshoi employees, including some of the leading dancers, issued an open letter defending 29-year-old Dmitrichenko. They said that police failed to produce any evidence of Dmitrichenko's guilt and argued that Dmitrichenko had been pressured into slandering himself by police.

"We think that the conclusions drawn by investigators look hasty to us, their proof unconvincing and Pavel's confession ... was a result of crude pressure on him," the letter said.

"Regrettably, the history of our country saw many occasions when investigators used unlawful and sometimes illegal means to obtain the results they needed," it added.

Rights groups say Russian police routinely use torture to extract false confessions from those they have arbitrarily rounded up, brutality that long has caused public outrage and drawn calls for an overhaul of the force.

Dmitrichenko's lawyer, Alexander Barkanov, didn't make any allegations of police abuse in the case when he attended a court session last week. Moscow police insisted in Tuesday's statement that they have been honestly doing their job and pledged to conduct a fair probe.

Reacting to the open letter by Bolshoi artists, Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov called a news conference to say that Dmitrichenko won't be fired unless found guilty.

"If the court proves his innocence, then, sure, we will have no legal grounds to fire Dmitrichenko," he said.

Iksanov said he shares the ballet troupe's concern that the "investigation could be biased" and said he believes Dmitrichenko when the dancer says he was plotting the attack, but not the violent form that it took.

The Bolshoi's director pledged to keep Dmitrichenko on payroll for the time being, but added that it is virtually impossible for a dancer to return to work after a year's break. It is unclear when his trial could start and how long it could last.