Russian criminal prosecutors have opened an investigation into spending on the reconstruction of the renowned Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

Reconstruction on the 185-year-old theatre is years behind schedule and costs have escalated since the initial bid in 2005.

But the Russian General Prosecutor's Office said it was most concerned about evidence that seemed to show the contractor, Kurortproekt, being paid three times for the same work.

The federal Directorate for Construction, Reconstruction and Restoration has paid a total of about 957 million rubles ($33.4 million Cdn) on a project originally estimated at about 98 million rubles ($3.4 million).

Auditors uncovered the irregularities in a probe of the federal agency.

The Bolshoi Theatre — a name that means "big theatre" — needed work on the facade, foundation and main stage to restore the original acoustics lost in a renovation in the 1930s.  The work is only partly finished after four years.

No charges have been announced against the federal agency or the contractor. Bolshoi management said it was not involved.

Productions by the famed Bolshoi Ballet and the opera company continue at a nearby theatre, but it now appears the Bolshoi will not reopen until 2011.

With files from The Associated Press