Court Ruling Declares Planetarium Bankrupt

A court declared the Moscow Planetarium bankrupt Tuesday -- the latest development in a struggle over the once-loved but long-shuttered landmark from the Soviet era.

The Moscow Arbitration Court satisfied a request by creditors to declare the planetarium bankrupt, court spokeswoman Maria Rabin said.

Longtime planetarium director Igor Mikitasov said the ruling was part of a campaign by the city to seize control of the privatized planetarium and the pricey land it occupies.

"They have taken our building, our money and our equipment and thrown us out," Mikitasov said by telephone.

He represents two foreign investors who are minority shareholders in the planetarium, while the city holds a 61 percent majority.

The planetarium -- closed for nearly 15 years -- had been slated to reopen on its 75th anniversary in 2004. But renovations dragged out amid mutual accusations between Mikitasov and the city.

Mikitasov said the city stopped funding the renovations in 2006, when the work was nearly finished. He claimed that the city then set about to engineer the bankruptcy, allegedly using front companies and corrupt courts to inflate a minor debt into 1.7 billion rubles ($72 million).

The conflict over the planetarium came to a head in March, when staffers said about 20 uniformed men forced their way onto the grounds, beat an unarmed employee and proclaimed that a new boss was in charge. City officials said they were carrying out a decision by shareholders to place the planetarium under new management.

Mikitasov said that decision was made on the basis of a fraudulent document and that the city did not have the shareholder support it needed.

Mikitasov spoke from an undisclosed location abroad, where he said he lives because he has received threats and fears for his family's safety. He claimed that unidentified people offered to ensure a favorable court decision for a $250,000 bribe.

Mikitasov claimed the city wants to make a profit by selling the planetarium to a developer who will use the prime real estate for more lucrative purposes.

City officials deny that. Moscow property department spokeswoman Natalya Bykova said the renovations would be completed with city funds, and the planetarium could open early next year.

Scientists are being consulted on how best to finish the job and outfit the planetarium, she said.