Bolshoi dancer denies planning acid attack on artistic director

MOSCOW (AFP) - A Bolshoi dancer detained on suspicion of organising a horrific acid attack against the Moscow ballet company's artistic director denied on Thursday ever planning such an assault against his former boss.

Pavel Dmitrichenko, who has been charged together with two suspected accomplices, told a Moscow court that he deeply regretted the acid attack on Sergei Filin and was happy he plans to return to work in September.

The dancer, who was often cast in dark roles such as Ivan the Terrible, admitted he had artistic differences with Filin but said he had never wanted him to be so badly hurt.

Dmitrichenko told the court he had agreed to a "proposal" by the suspected perpetrator, unemployed ex-convict Yury Zarutsky, to "hit" Filin but no more.

"I did not imagine that this person (Zarutsky) was capable of such a cruel and inhuman crime," said Dmitrichenko, quoted by the RAPSI legal news agency.

He expressed regret for encouraging Zarutsky. "Now I understand that I should not have done this," he said.

Dmitrichenko said he respected Filin "as an artist" but that he had not agreed with decisions he made after becoming artistic director of the Bolshoi.

Filin is currently in a clinic in Germany, trying to recover some eyesight after being almost completely blinded in the attack. However he told Russian television in an interview last week he was hoping to return to Moscow for the new Bolshoi season which starts in September.

"I am happy that Filin is returning to work at the Bolshoi Theatre," said Dmitrichenko. "The main thing is that he now recovers after the inhuman crime committed by Zarutsky, with whom I am unfortunately acquainted."

A third man, Andrei Lipatov, suspected of driving Zarutsky to the scene, has also been detained.

In a dramatic day in court, Zarutsky fully backed Dmitrichenko's testimony and said the former Bolshoi soloist should not be behind bars.

"I do not deny my responsibility and I admit my guilt," said Zarutsky, quoted by RAPSI.

"The initiative for the attack was mine and I am the one who should be judged, not the guys who are sitting behind bars there," he said.

He said he wanted to help Dmitrichenko but in the end "had only made things worse".

Dmitrichenko, who has been formally charged with organising the crime, said he intends to plead innocent as he maintains it was Zarutsky who planned the use of acid.

Zarutsky has said he flung a mixture of battery fluid and urine into Filin's face on the night of Jan 17 this year in a crime that caused tumult at the already scandal-plagued Bolshoi.

All three are being held in pre-trial detention and it is still not clear when a trial will begin.

The court ruled to keep Dmitrichenko in detention until Oct 18, when his stay can be extended again, RAPSI said. All face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

The theatre replaced its general director in July and the ballet company is currently enjoying a sold-out tour in London where it has has received stellar reviews despite injuries to top dancers.