Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, has played down concerns about a search earlier this week of a museum facility by the Federal Security Service (FSB).
The Hermitage confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that FSB investigators were looking into “operational procedures” at the museum’s state-of-the-art Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository center
. In 2015, the Hermitage announced a 3.7-billion-ruble tender to build part of the third stage of the Staraya Derevnya complex. The total estimated cost of the glass cube building, designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas, is 7.4 billion rubles ($1.25m).
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Piotrovsky said the agency has helped protect the museum from dishonest construction companies. “We are in constant contact with the FSB regarding construction projects,” he told Interfax news. “They track all of our construction projects from the outset, check our documents, because there are swindlers all around, especially in the field of construction.”
Piotrovsky said the museum is embroiled in constant lawsuits with construction companies and criticised a law that awards tenders to the lowest bidder, or in his words: “the least well-known and most inept” firms.
The FSB search coincided with continuing controversy over a government decision to hand St Isaac’s Cathedral
, a St Petersburg landmark that was turned into a museum in the Soviet era, over to the Russian Orthodox Church. Piotrovsky has been a vocal opponent of the handover and opposition media have speculated that the search was conducted as a warning.