On Tuesday 109 pieces of art of 17th-19th centuries illegally exported from Russia to Italy were presented in the Russian Ministry of Culture to a number of Russian museums.
General Ugo Zottin, commander of a Carabineer unit in charge of protection of cultural property, reported that the operation to return Russian icons which was carried out by the Italian financial guard together with Carabineers lasted for 1.5 years and was still not completed. According to him, the first stage of the operation, which revealed activities of an international criminal group consisting of citizens of Poland, Czechia, Romania, Austria, Switzerland, Italy was finalized in Rome, Lombardy and Verona. The General pointed out that out of almost 1,000 Russian icons 219 were already returned to Russia and assistance of Russian authorities and experts in their identification was absolutely priceless.
Russian Minister of Culture Mikhail Shvydkoi stated that "last years were marked by return of Russian cultural values to Russia, large shipments of icons, unique historical documents, antique articles, paintings were returned." The present event was the first case in Russia's history when cultural values were returned on the basis of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illegal import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property dated November 14, 1970 (the above-mentioned icons were not involved in criminal cases). Nevertheless the Russian side had to prove that those icons and other religious artifacts were illegally exported from Russia. It was done by means of a highly qualified expert appraisal organized and performed in Italy by the department of preservation of cultural values of the Russian ministry of culture together with the Russian foreign ministry.
The precedent of return from Italy of cultural values illegally exported from Russia in accordance with international legal regulations instills hope that the work will be continued in relation to icons detained in various Italian cities (in total about 900 pieces). In March 2003, 200 Orthodox icons were already returned to Russia, a similar event took place in 2001.
The Russian Ministry of Culture reported to RIA Novosti that statistics confirmed the tendency towards decrease of thefts and attempts to export Russian national values from Russia.