The further the consequences of the affair of the works of art stolen from the Hermitage advance, the more details connected to the shocking event are revealed. Not for nothing has it been called the robbery of the century: over a period of six years, one of the most famous museums in Russia lost 221 exhibits from the Russian section, estimated at a total value of 130 million rubles (approximately 5 million dollars).
The loss became evident only after the management of the museum carried out large-scale checks of the storage rooms and were horrified to find that a couple of hundred masterpieces could not be found. Luckily, collectors summoned Russian cultural authorities and the police set out in search of the criminals with impressive efficiency. They are still continuing to find works of art in St Petersburg. In particular, today it has been revealed that a further six of the stolen exhibits have been received in the antiques section of the Department of Internal Affairs, amongst them were two icons.
According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, workers of the museum who had direct access to the storage rooms have been blamed for the theft. Larissa Zavadskaya, suspected of committing the crime, according to colleagues, was a useless specialist on the material, but she worked well with the documents. She passed away in October last year, exactly when the inspection of museum funds under her trust began. But this does not mean that no-one will be tried in court: the woman’s husband and son have been arrested and accused of complicity in the robbery and sale of jewelry from the Hermitage collection. The have already pleaded guilty.
Zavadskaya’s son was also well-placed: Nikolai had worked in the Hermitage for some time in the department of accounts and storage. He was fired not long before the death of his mother, and as if by coincidence, exhibits stopped disappearing when he left. For this reason, some of the museum workers believe that it was the young man himself who carried out the thefts.
On the other hand, colleagues remembered that, suspiciously, Larissa often used to travel to Finland, and then suddenly stopped. If it is to be supposed that the curator really managed to transport some of the masterpieces abroad, the search for them becomes significantly more complicated. They say that searches of Zavadskaya’s flat only revealed receipts from the pawn-shop. Almost half the exhibits, which workers of the Hermitage assume did not interest potential buyers, were pawned for their weight by the criminals.
During interrogation, the husband and son of the deceased curator admitted that they had gradually been carrying the masterpieces of jeweler’s art out of the museum, since 1998. They did not have to overcome any particular obstacles for this, since museum staff are not even checked on leaving the building. It is possible to take out almost any rarity that will fit into an ordinary string-bag.
From the criminals’ statements, it was revealed to whom 70 of the exhibits had been sold. Now the police have a difficult task before them: to find the remaining missing items. It’s true that they may be helped by the fact that there are not many collectors of such things in the world. One of them, for example, is Malcolm Forbes, the son of the founder of Forbes magazine.
Translated by Leila Wilmers
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