- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

MOSCOW — Concern over the security of Russia’s museum collections mounted after officials revealed yet another theft — the disappearance of a famous late architect’s drawings, worth millions of dollars, from a Russian state archive.

The crime, blamed by the archive’s director on unscrupulous staff, occurred just more than a week after Russia’s most famous museum — the Hermitage — announced the theft over a period of years of more than 220 artworks valued at $5 million.

The incidents have illuminated the lax security and appallingly poor record keeping at Russian cultural institutions, as well as the funding shortage that has hampered museums and archives since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Russia’s cultural heritage body said yesterday that drawings by late architect Yakov Chernikhov, widely admired for his Soviet-era avant-garde and constructivist (abstract or geometric) designs, disappeared from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art.

The agency, Rosokhrankultura, said it did not know exactly how many drawings had been stolen but that 274 of them — worth an estimated $1.3 million — had been recovered on the Russian antiques market and abroad.

Archive Director Tatyana Goryayeva said that some of her staffers were certainly involved.

“Unfortunately, I have to state the fact it could not have happened without the participation of the workers of the archive,” she said in televised comments.

Rosokhrankultura said it became aware of the Chernikhov thefts after nine missing drawings were sold by Christie’s auction house on June 22.

Mr. Chernikhov’s grandson, Andrei, said the major part of the architect’s estate — which was donated to the state archive after his 1951 death and includes about 2,000 drawings — had gone missing. He said he learned of the theft after an acquaintance asked him to verify the history of the nine drawings on sale at Christie’s. ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying that he asked auctioneers to withdraw the lots. Christie’s later canceled the auction.

At the Hermitage — the ornate St. Petersburg institution that once was the Russian czars’ Winter Palace — museum officials have said the theft of the items, which included jewelry, religious icons and richly enameled objects, took place over several years.

Three suspects have been detained regarding the theft, including the son and husband of a late curator who had been in charge of the collection. She died at her workplace shortly after a routine inventory check began last October.

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