Russian authorities are currently investigating art valuations by experts at one of the country’s top museums, Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery, a gallery spokeswoman said Wednesday. “The investigation is continuing outside the gallery’s premises,” spokeswoman Anna Kotlyar told AFP.
Kotlyar confirmed that investigators had carried out searches in the gallery on Tuesday, but added that she had “minimal information” and could not comment further. The powerful Investigative Committee has launched a probe into paintings allegedly smuggled out of the country in one of the most high-profile scandals to hit Russia’s art world for some time. It is claimed that experts from the Tretyakov Gallery assessed paintings at a fraction of their true price before attempting to smuggle them out of Russia.
Investigators said in a statement to the press that they had arrested a 33-year-old local government official at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport as he tried to take five paintings out of the country, after declaring their total worth as less than 180,000 rubles or £2345.
It is said that the suspect gave “false information about the value of the paintings, which is really no less than 1.9 million rubles or £24,754,” investigators added. The smuggling of cultural artifacts,carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years. The paintings apparently included a signed work by a well-known 20th century painter, Pyotr Konchalovsky, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Investigators said they are currently carrying out searches in the expert department of the Tretyakov Gallery. Experts at top Russian art museums are said to have a lucrative sideline in valuations, with some being accused of legitimising faked paintings as works by Russian masters, which then go on to sell for top prices at auction.
The Tretyakov Gallery, specialises in Russian art and contains masterpiecesfrom artists including Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall.
Irina Lebedeva, the director of the Tretyakov Gallery, was sacked after six years in February in a surprise decision, with the culture ministry accusing her of failing to raise visitor numbers. The director was replaced by Zelfira Tregulova, a former organiser of international exhibitions of Russian art.