Husband of late curator convicted in Russia's State Hermitage Museum theft

The husband of a late curator at Russia's most famous museum was convicted Thursday in the theft of dozens of art objects and sentenced to five years in prison.

Nikolai Zavadsky was also ordered by Dzerzhinsky District Court to pay 7.3 million rubles (US$283,000; EUR215,000) in damages to the State Hermitage Museum, said judge Anzhelika Morozova, who presided at the trial.

The Hermitage, in the former czar's palace on the banks of the Neva River, announced last July that 221 items, including jewelry, religious icons, silverware and richly enameled objects worth about US$5 million (EUR3.8 million), had been stolen.

Zavadsky confessed that he and his wife were involved in the thefts, which took place over several years. Zavadsky's wife, Larisa, died suddenly at her workplace shortly after a routine inventory began last year.

Police so far have recovered more than 30 of the missing items.

The thefts have highlighted lax security and antiquated record-keeping at Russian institutions and underscored the funding crisis that has plagued museums and archives since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The Hermitage director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, has been reprimanded over the lapses in security at the museum.

When the Hermitage thefts were discovered, President Vladimir Putin ordered top officials to conduct a nationwide inventory of 50 million artworks at cash-strapped Russian museums, concerned that many other treasures could also be missing, reports AP.

Only a quarter of the country's artworks have been inventoried since a check began six years ago, the first such survey since the closing years of the Soviet Union.

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