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Russian art theft is just tip of iceberg-watchdog

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Aug 23: The 5 million dollar theft of artworks from the Hermitage Museum is the tip of an iceberg and will be followed by the discovery of more losses at leading museums, the head of Russia's culture watchdog said.

President Vladimir Putin ordered an urgent inventory of all state museums and archives after it emerged a curator at the world-famous Hermitage had for years been smuggling out artefacts and swapping them for cash in pawnshops.

''I am convinced that more such discoveries await us during the work of the commission,'' Boris Boyarskov, head of the Rosokhrankultura watchdog, told a news briefing.

''We have every ground for such a concern ... There will be discoveries (of thefts) and they will be in our country's main, leading museums as well as in the provinces.'' An inventory revealed about 200 silver and enamel pieces had disappeared from the Hermitage, a vast collection in the tsarist Winter Palace in St Petersburg which includes works by Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet.

The theft focused attention on years of neglect and under-funding at Russia's museums where staff are paid paltry wages and there is no cash for adequate security.

Larisa Zavadskaya, the curator responsible for the pieces in the Hermitage, died suddenly when the inventory began. Her husband and son and a family friend have been charged over the thefts.

About 20 of the items have since been returned. Police found some of them in rubbish bins and railway station left-luggage lockers after anonymous tipoffs.


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