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Putin Orders Investigation of Stealing From Museums


Ramblinfarms
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Here is the dark side of collecting Imperial and Soviet Russian. From the Hermitage?!!!! Unbelievable! Does anyone know the complete details? :angry::angry::angry:

Chris

MOSCOW, Aug 10, 2006 (UPI via COMTEX) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an inventory of all cultural artifacts in the country's museums, it was announced Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Putin set a Sept. 1 deadline for the creation of a commission to conduct the inventory, RIA Novosti reported Thursday. He said the commission would be made up of officials from the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor General's Office and other government bodies.

The announcement follows an announcement in late July by Moscow's the Hermitage museum that an inventory revealed items missing from storage worth a total $4.85 million. Among the missing items are medieval and 19th Century jewelry, antique silverware and enameled objects.

The museum said only staff members had access to the storerooms the items disappeared from. Three suspects have been arrested in the investigation, including the husband and son of a museum curator who died suddenly when the probe began.

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"The event in the Hermitage is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern," Boris Boyarskov, the head of the Culture Ministry's department in charge of protection of cultural valuables. Boryaskov said about 50 to 100 thefts are registered each year in Russian museums, and although outright robberies are less frequent now because of new security measures, inside jobs are increasing.

Hey guys, this is nothing new. The Hermitage has been looted on an ongoing basis going far back to the Soviet days of when Gorbachov was in office. When the Great Soviet empire collapse, these curators were not paid by the government for over a year. The basement inventories that nobody saw quickly went out the back door. Over the years, there has been more than the 4 or 5 million reported stolen over this last incident taken. Probably they will never know for sure how much was actually stolen as it involved many curators and employees over the years. The records are probably gone as well as it was the curators and museum staff that did most of the looting and they probably destroyed any inventory trace.

Haven't you ever wondered were all the Imperial Russian militaria came from over the last 15 years on the market ? Why many pieces are in mint pristine condition ? Why some pieces still have numbers inked or painted on them. You can't really believe that just because communism fell in Russia that the greater russian population started to pull these items out from the attics and walls of their homes and put them up for sale, or did you ? :speechless: Let me remind you, during the 1920's-1940's, the NKVD in Russia would of had you shot for being in posession of even a tattered pair of Imperial shoulder boards. If you were lucky, Stalin spared your life and sent you to the Gulag to die as slave labor instead.

First encounter I had is when I was offered an Imperial Russian Tunic during the Soviet days stolen from the Hermitage and flown into this country via New York by an Aero Float Pilot. He wore it under his pilots uniform. KGB was waiting for him in New York and escorted him home were he was promptly arrested upon stepping off the airplane. Guys, when you have had 3 generations of living under communism, the taste of capitalism makes for a lot of corruption.

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Police: Hermitage Curator Offered Art

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV (Associated Press Writer)

From Associated Press

August 12, 2006 4:45 PM EDT

MOSCOW - A senior Russian police officer said Saturday that a late curator, who has been the focus of an investigation into the theft of art from the State Hermitage Museum, had offered to sell some of the stolen items to an antiques dealer.

Russia's most famous museum announced last month that 221 items worth $5 million, including jewelry, religious icons, silverware and richly enameled objects, had been stolen. The museum, on the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, was the former Winter Palace of the czars.

The thefts highlighted lax security and antiquated record-keeping at Russian institutions and underscored the funding crisis that has plagued museums and archives since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Larisa Zavadskaya, the curator in charge of the Russian art collection where the thefts occurred, died suddenly at work when a routine inventory check began last year. Earlier this week, police detained four suspects, including Zavadskaya's husband and their son, and charged them with involvement in the thefts.

Zavadskaya's husband confessed that he and his wife were involved in some of the thefts and that they took place over several years, his lawyer said.

Authorities so far have recovered 17 of the items stolen from the Hermitage, most recently a gilded silver cross dating from 1760 that a couple of St. Petersburg antique dealers returned to police Saturday.

The dealers told investigators the curator repeatedly visited their shop to offer some of the items they later recognized from pictures of stolen objects released by the Hermitage, said Vladislav Kirillov, a senior police officer in charge of the investigation.

One of the dealers, Alexander Ponomarev, said Zavadskaya did all the bargaining, claiming she was selling the objects belonging to her friends who had been in a car accident and needed money for treatment.

"They brought many items, and that (the cross) was the only one we agreed upon," Ponomarev said in televised remarks.

Kirillov said Zavadskaya's husband sold the cross a year ago, even as an inventory check began in the collection, and had kept the receipt. Police said he sold the item for 20,000 rubles, or $750 - less than one-tenth its real price.

Russian media said Zavadskaya, an art scholar widely respected by her colleagues, lived in a ramshackle apartment that she and her family shared with other tenants in a dilapidated building in the historic center of St. Petersburg.

Amid suggestions that low salaries for staff were partly to blame for the theft, Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky said pay for museum curators could be increased. He also announced the museum would spend $5.5 million next year on security, including electronic monitoring of staff entering and leaving the collections.

The head of Russia's federal culture agency, Mikhail Shvydkoi, formally reprimanded Piotrovsky, who has faced calls for his resignation over the lapses in security at the museum.

On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin ordered top officials, including the head of the KGB's successor agency, to confirm the whereabouts of 50 million artworks at Russian museums following the Hermitage thefts.

Only a quarter of the country's artworks have been inventoried since a check began six years ago, the first such survey since the waning years of the Soviet Union.

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"The event in the Hermitage is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern," Boris Boyarskov, the head of the Culture Ministry's department in charge of protection of cultural valuables. Boryaskov said about 50 to 100 thefts are registered each year in Russian museums, and although outright robberies are less frequent now because of new security measures, inside jobs are increasing.

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Hey everyone. This is nothing new. The Hermitage has been looted on an on going basis going far back to the Soviet days of when Gorbachov was in office. When the Great Soviet empire collapse, these curators were not paid by the government for over a year. The basement inventories that nobody saw quickly went out the back door. Over the years, there has been more than the 4 or 5 million reported stolen over this last incident taken. Probably they will never know for sure how much was actually stolen as it involved many curators and employees over the years. The records are probably gone as well as it was the curators and museum staff that did most of the looting and they probably destroyed any inventory trace.

Haven't you ever wondered were all the Imperial Russian militaria came from over the last 15 years on the market ? Why many pieces are in mint pristine condition ? Why some pieces still have numbers inked or painted on them. You can't really believe that just because communism fell in Russia that the greater russian population started to pull these items out from the attics and walls of their homes and put them up for sale, or did you ? Let me remind you, during the 1920's-1940's, the NKVD in Russia would of had you shot for being in posession of even a tattered pair of Imperial shoulder boards. If you were lucky, Stalin spared your life and sent you to the Gulag to die as slave labor instead.

I first encounter a Hermatage theft back in the late 70's or early 80's when I was offered an Imperial Russian Tunic stolen from the Hermitage and flown into this country via New York by an Aero Float Pilot. He wore it under his pilots uniform. KGB was waiting for him in New York and escorted him home were he was promptly arrested upon stepping off the airplane. These thefts have been ongoing for years.

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The Irony is... the theives will go to great lenghts to smuggle the items out of Russia. These pieces end up at the auction houses which are heavily attended by the rich Russians who fly out of Russia carrying their American Express cards and buying up everything they see at inflated prices and taking the artifacts back into Russia. Amazing. The government has strict export regulations on atiquities, but no regulations if you want to go the other way. If they bothered to look, they will see that many of the items coming across the borders are the pieces stolen only a few years earlier. Irony ! :speechless:

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The irony is rather clear!! Did you not tell me that many of these Russian folks are buying just to have "baubles" or "investment items", but have no clear love of the history behind them? There is an irony, too! I know a wealthy guy who collects vintage guitars, Martins, Gibsons, Fenders, etc. Yet he does not play! They are just objects to him, to hold on to for a while, and resell at a profit down the line.

I have often wondered what those Russians who are interested in their history (I am sure that just like the USA, there are those who could care less), think of these items being stolen out of their museums, and resold to western collectors. It would be like finding out that Washington's flintlock pistols had been stolen out of the USMA Museum, and rumored to be resold to a wealthy middle eastern sheik-collector. :angry:

Do you think that the Putin Investigation will impact the collecting market? E.g. markedly higher prices, a reluctance of collectors to sell and trade, increase in National sensitivity and refusal of families, people of Russian heritage, etc. to sell to collectors, and a flood of excellent fakes to fill the void?

Here is an interesting site, for sale within Russia only, and get a load of the prices!!!!!!!! :o:o

http://www.numismat.ru/cgi-bin/enindex.cgi

Edited by Ramblinfarms
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Some more irony : I wonder what kind of collection Putin has ? :rolleyes: A lot of KGB during the Soviet days and former KGB today have very large Imperial Russian militaria and art collections. Collecting these items was a communist status symbol. Where do you think they aquired their pieces from. ;)

Edited by REGAL UNIFORMA COLECTOR
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The inside job at Russia's Hermitage

Alex Rodriguez

From Chicago Tribune

August 20, 2006 12:00 AM EDT

Aug. 20--ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- The annals of art heists brim with tales ready-made for a potboiler novel. In 2004, masked men brandishing .357 Magnums swiped Edvard Munch's "The Scream" as stunned museum patrons in Oslo looked on. The gang that pilfered nearly $1 million in paintings from a Paraguay museum four years ago dug an 80-foot tunnel to reach their quarry.

But here in Russia's cultural capital, the story of the largest theft ever to strike the famed State Hermitage Museum appears to be the stuff of Franz Kafka, not Raymond Chandler.

A sickly, cherub-faced museum curator sneaks out silver chalices and gem-festooned icons year after year in her tote bag, unnoticed by a security regimen that still relies on bound ledgers to track artifacts. When an audit in October 2005 finally reveals something is amiss, she keels over and dies at her desk.

After authorities announce the thefts, buyers of the loot treat the items like briquettes of uranium, leaving them in train station lockers and trash bins.

The dead curator, 52-year-old Larisa Zavadskaya, her husband, her son and another man are at the heart of an investigation into the theft of 221 art treasures valued at $5 million from Zavadskaya's storeroom during a span of up to eight years.

St. Petersburg police remain tight-lipped about the case. But according to a version of events that the husband, Nikolai Zavadsky, gave his attorney, Larisa Zavadskaya only needed to stuff the pieces into her bag and walk out the door.

"There was security at museum entrances, but when curators left the building they were never checked," said Zavadsky's attorney, Ludmilla Mikhailova. "It was quite easy to take these things."

Zavadsky's version has not been confirmed by Russian authorities, who have arrested him along with the couple's 25-year-old son, a St. Petersburg antiques dealer, and another man who may have organized the plot. Museum authorities want to know what role was played by the son, who worked as a courier at the Hermitage.

Zavadsky admits pawning some of the stolen items at St. Petersburg antiques shops, Mikhailova said. His wife also tried selling some of the artifacts to a St. Petersburg antiques dealer, police said.

The scale of the thefts and the relative ease with which they were carried out have triggered a torrent of criticism about lax security at Russian museums. Only a week after the Hermitage case was made public July 31, Russian authorities announced that drawings worth $1.3 million by Soviet Constructivist architect Yakov Chernikhov were missing from Moscow's State Archive of Literature and Art.

The crimes also reflect the culture of corruption that has seeped into every nook and cranny of post-Soviet Russian society, even the hallowed Hermitage.

"The climate today is one of money and temptation," Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage, said in an interview. "People are now open to this kind of temptation, now that we live in a capitalistic society."

Every year, as many as 100 artifacts are stolen from Russian museums, mostly the result of insider theft, said Boris Boyarskov, chief of Rosokhrankultura, the agency responsible for safeguarding cultural heritage.

Early this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered top security officials to carry out an inventory of the 50 million artifacts and works of art at Russian museums.

Record-keeping poor

Antiquated record-keeping adds to the vulnerability of collections at museums, Boyarskov said. While museums around the world log artifacts on computer databases, none of the 58 museums under the jurisdiction of Russia's Culture Ministry has completed the transition to computerized inventory.

At the Hermitage, the move to computerized inventories began seven years ago, but only 153,000 of the museum's 2.8 million pieces have been logged, Boyarskov said. The rest are logged in handwriting in large, cumbersome ledgers. At the current rate, it would take the Hermitage 70 years to finish the transition to computers, Mikhail Shvydkoi, chief of Russia's federal cultural agency, said at a recent news conference.

Just as problematic is the lack of supervision over Russian museum curators, a job that garners great respect and trust in Russian society even if it doesn't yield a big paycheck. At the Hermitage, curators were given wide latitude. Zavadskaya was one of only four people who had access to the room where the stolen items were stored.

"When access is that tight, the curators rule. They can do whatever they want," Piotrovsky said. "We have always regarded the curator as a kind of holy person. Now we know that some of them are not so holy, so we'll have to control them."

Authorities say thefts of items from Zavadskaya's storeroom began as long ago as 1997, after Zavadskaya became a curator at the Hermitage.

Described by acquaintances as quiet and devoted to her work, Zavadskaya earned roughly $500 a month as a curator responsible for safeguarding 6,000 Hermitage pieces. She shared two rooms of a three-room communal apartment with her 54-year-old husband, who taught at a city university, their son, and her husband's parents, Mikhailova said.

The lawyer says Zavadskaya's husband said the thefts were motivated by the family's money troubles, which partly derived from bills for drugs Zavadskaya needed to treat diabetes and heart troubles. Russian media have also quoted unnamed police sources as saying that a former academic colleague of Zavadsky's now under arrest, Ivan Sobolev, 38, helped organize the thefts.

According to Mikhailova, Zavadsky took at least 50 of the pieces that his wife brought home and sold them at antiques shops in St. Petersburg, accepting $200 to $4,000 as payment. He never divulged their origin, telling shop owners that his wife had friends who wanted to sell the items. Zavadsky has confessed to his role in the thefts and is cooperating with investigators, Mikhailova said.

Authorities say it is difficult to imagine that the items did not raise eyebrows at St. Petersburg pawnshops and antiques dealers: a silver chalice rimmed with amethysts, a Russian Orthodox icon with aquamarines and pearls, a brown agate vase atop a silver stem in the shape of a tree trunk. The pieces date from the late 1600s to the 20th Century.

In October, as museum officials began a routine audit of the pieces under Zavadskaya's care, Zavadskaya came home from work in a panic, Mikhailova said. The next day at work, she collapsed at her desk and died of a heart attack.

Afterward, museum officials spent months scouring other storerooms and offices for the missing items. On July 31 they announced the disappearance of the 221 pieces and posted a list on the Hermitage's Web site.

A break in the case came Aug. 5, when a Moscow antiques dealer called police and said she had in her possession Item No. 60 on the list, a gilded silver chalice adorned with six-winged seraphs and enamel depictions of Christ, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. Russian newspapers reported that the information the dealer gave led to the Zavadskys and a St. Petersburg antiques dealer initially detained for questioning. That dealer was released from custody Tuesday.

Dumping the evidence

With the Hermitage case dominating headlines across Russia, some people in possession of stolen pieces appear eager to dump the items as quickly as possible.

The most valuable piece, a $200,000 icon known as the Assembly of All Saints, was found Aug. 3 in a trash bin near a St. Petersburg police station. The next week a 19th Century silver ladle and a silver Russian Orthodox cross were recovered near the entrance of the St. Petersburg branch of the Federal Security Service, Russia's successor agency to the KGB. Other pieces have been recovered from lockers at a St. Petersburg train station. In all, at least 24 items have been recovered.

Piotrovsky says there are facets to the case that still mystify him. Why steal 221 items when taking the most valuable pieces can fetch up to $200,000? Though Zavadskaya was a familiar face to Hermitage security guards, how could she get away with walking past them with a stashed chalice or icon for so many years?

And perhaps the most vexing question on Piotrovsky's mind: How could someone entrusted with Russia's cultural treasures commit such a flagrant act of betrayal?

"I can't understand," Piotrovsky said, "how a person who is a curator, a specialist in this kind of work, could do these kinds of things to a museum."

Edited by Ramblinfarms
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The inside job at Russia's Hermitage

Alex Rodriguez

From Chicago Tribune

August 20, 2006 12:00 AM EDT

Aug. 20--ST. PETERSBURG, Russia --

"The climate today is one of money and temptation," Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage, said in an interview. "People are now open to this kind of temptation, now that we live in a capitalistic society."

Every year, as many as 100 artifacts are stolen from Russian museums, mostly the result of insider theft, said Boris Boyarskov, chief of Rosokhrankultura, the agency responsible for safeguarding cultural heritage.

And perhaps the most vexing question on Piotrovsky's mind: How could someone entrusted with Russia's cultural treasures commit such a flagrant act of betrayal?

"I can't understand," Piotrovsky said, "how a person who is a curator, a specialist in this kind of work, could do these kinds of things to a museum."

with regards 100 add a couple more noughts :P and you would be nearer the truth.

And when you pay in peanuts, you get work done by monkeys,

While not condoning theft, the Russian State has a responsibility to pay its employees a decent wage, especialy with all the Dosh Putin is raking in with Russian Gas and Oil :off topic:

The local History Museum here in Deva, Hunedoara had an inventory made a few months ago, a couple of hundred of items are missing including artwork, Roman statues, Dacian objects etc...etc... but nobody seems to be accountable for it :ninja:

Kevin in Deva, :cheers:

Kevin in Deva,

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The KGB and High Ranking Soviet officials were the collectors of Russian art and militaria during Communist days. There really was nobody collecting as the stuff was not available on the streets and people did not have the money. Today, we see a lot of Mafia who are collectors. These people have the excess money that make it very tempting for curators to steal. They are the ones with all the money driving up the prices there and abroad. These people are neither historians or true collectors in the sense of the name. It is purely a status symbol as it was in the old days. Presently, the former KGB is closely tied with Mafia which orchestrates most of theses thefts. The reason Putin is making such a stink about this theft over the other 100 or so thefts that occur yearly in Russian Museums both in Russia and abroad is that this particular theft was done by an outsider who had pawn the items on the street. This person was neither ex-KGB or Mafia. Now, it has became bad press. A public relations problem for Putin. If the person where ex-KGB or Mafia who took the items, I bet it would not have been publicized. They seem to take care of there own and as long as they steal for themselves, its never publicized. The theiving would continue as it has been since Gorbachov was in office. Now, this latest theft from someone who is neither ex-KGB or Mafia has publicly exposed the Museum thieving problems making it harder for the REAL THIEVES to operate. Again, I would like to see what treasures are displayed in Putin's house. :rolleyes: Understand that corruption is still wide spread in Russia and affects all levels of Government.

Edited by REGAL UNIFORMA COLECTOR
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The KGB and High Ranking Soviet officials were the collectors of Russian art and militaria during Communist days. There really was nobody collecting as the stuff was not available on the streets and people did not have the money. Today, we see a lot of Mafia who are collectors. These people have the excess money that make it very tempting for curators to steal. They are the ones with all the money driving up the prices there and abroad. These people are neither historians or true collectors in the sense of the name. It is purely a status symbol as it was in the old days. Presently, the former KGB is closely tied with Mafia which orchestrates most of theses thefts. . . . . Again, I would like to see what treasures are displayed in Putin's house. :rolleyes: Understand that corruption is still wide spread in Russia and affects all levels of Government.

Theres a few Romanain politician's house's I would like to get a look into as well, this problem is rife in the old Communist states, and not just Russia.

Kevin in Deva :beer:

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If I'm hearing you right, then 99% of what is available as far as REAL items come from shady provenance?! :o The exception to the rule being direct purchases from families in the former Soviet Union or expatriated? Or those objects several times removed from the original owner, but can be documented as being of that sort of provenance? From what I have been advised, it was not good for your health in Soviet Russia to retain the symbols of the monarchy, such as regimental badges and imperial marked Faerge. And I also understand there was a wholesale melting down of precious metal artwork and badges, jetons and such during WWII because of a shortage of gold and silver. As such, the survival of these items out of Government or institutional hands must be a very, very small percentage of what was actually manufactured.

So where do most of the authentic badges, jetons, etc come from? Do we as collectors have a duty to inquire? Do we American and European collectors have a duty to assist in preserving what are really priceless relics of Russian history?

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Chris Werner

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Add to this the fact that, as I understand the law, veterans (or families of veterans) who sold their (or their ancestor's) medals have done so in violation of the law.

And, so, are we then accessories to criminal action? Receiving stolen goods after they pass through a "fence" or two does little to excuse the crime. Stolen goods are still stolen goods?

In part, this explains the fact that most Soviet awards that you could find in the late 1970s, had the serial numbers carefully obliterated. Done to disguise the implicit crime?

Previous threads like this have been closed down, though, so . . .

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  • 4 months later...

These people are neither historians or true collectors in the sense of the name.

Please explain - people with lots of $$$ can't be "real" collectors? Or does the source of the money define this? :rolleyes:

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  • 3 months later...

Add to this the fact that, as I understand the law, veterans (or families of veterans) who sold their (or their ancestor's) medals have done so in violation of the law.

And, so, are we then accessories to criminal action? Receiving stolen goods after they pass through a "fence" or two does little to excuse the crime. Stolen goods are still stolen goods?

In part, this explains the fact that most Soviet awards that you could find in the late 1970s, had the serial numbers carefully obliterated. Done to disguise the implicit crime?

Previous threads like this have been closed down, though, so . . .

The fact that some of us bought Soviet awards does not simply mean they have criminal background.

There are many legal ways to obtain awards, ie if they were sold from other 14 former Soviet republics. if award is taken from say Georgia or Baltics - in no way this violates laws of Russian Federation.

BTW, the Hermitage trial is over. Husband of the museum lady has been convicted and will spend yeras in jail, as well as will be peying for monetary damage.

William

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