Mikhail Novikov, deputy director of construction at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, has been placed under house arrest for two months, according to a report on Interfax. The Lefortovo court of Moscow ordered the house arrest, Interfax reports, because Novikov is “suspected of massive fraud committed by a group of people.”
Museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky told Interfax in a March 29 report that he believes the detention is connected to “the implementation of construction projects.” In an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Piotrovsky said “all these events are connected primarily to the issue of Hermitage construction projects… [which] involve a lot of money, a lot of various problems, many unscrupulous contractors.”
Citing Russian media, the Art Newspaper said that Novikov’s case is connected to a larger case where an estimated 100 million rubles were embezzled through Russian Ministry of Culture restoration projects. The scheme previously landed a deputy culture minister, Grigory Pirumov, in jail. TAN also said some news agencies reported that Novikov’s son, Artem, also a culture ministry official, had been detained, but the ministry has since denied it.
One Interfax report referenced says the son was detained but later released.
artnet News reached out to the Hermitage for comment but had not received a response as of publication time. Speaking to Interfax, Piotrovsky cautioned against making hasty accusations against Novikov, adding that “as to the recent events, I would like to emphasize that we still have presumption of innocence and everything that has occurred can only be commented on some time later, when the situation becomes clearer.”
In early February, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) searched the museum after the Rem Koolhas-designed Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository center went over budget by nearly $70 million. The Hermitage confirmed that the FSB was looking into the museum’s “operational procedures.”
Two years ago, the Hermitage invited constructions bids for 3.7 billion-ruble ($65 million) project to build part of the complex. At the time, Piotrovsky said the FSB had helped shield the Hermitage from dishonest construction companies by tracking all construction projects and checking documents, “because there are swindlers all around, especially in the field of construction.”
TAN reported that the search came amid ongoing controversy over the Russian government’s decision to give over St. Isaac’s Cathedral—a landmark in St. Petersburg that was transformed into a museum in the Soviet era—to the Russian orthodox church. Piotrovsky publicly opposed the turnover and Russian media reports have raised speculation that the search was conducted partly as a warning to the director.
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