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Hermitage Deputy Director Mikhail Novikov Placed Under House Arrest

Mikhail Novikov, the deputy director of Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, has been put under house arrest after a Moscow court charged him with suspected fraud in connection with construction projects at the museum, Sophia Kishkovsky of the Art Newspaper reports.

The case may be part of a larger scandal involving the embezzlement of roughly $2 million from restoration projects spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture, which led to the detainment of former deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov in March of 2016. Following the arrest, President Vladimir Putin criticized the ministry for failing to preserve heritage sites and not doing enough to fight corruption.

In January, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) searched the museum’s Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Repository Center. While the Hermitage confirmed that FSB investigators were conducting “operational procedures” at the institution, there was speculation that director Mikhail Piotrovsky was downplaying the incident. At a news conference about the FSB’s presence at the museum, Piotrovsky said, “We are in constant contact with the FSB regarding construction projects.”

According to the director, the agency keeps track of the Hermitage’s construction projects to protect it from dishonest contractors. Regarding the Lefortovsky District Court’s ruling that requires Novikov to remain under house arrest until May 23, Piotrovsky said, “I would like to underscore that the presumption of innocence nevertheless exists here and it will be possible to comment on everything that has happened only after some time, when the situation becomes clearer.”