Mikhail Novikov, a deputy director in charge of construction at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has been placed under house arrest on charges of suspected fraud.
Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court ruled on 29 March that Novikov is to be held under house arrest until 23 May. In January, the Hermitage acknowledged in a statement that investigators from the Federal Security Service, a successor agency of the KGB, had been conducting “operational procedures” at the museum’s Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository centre. Some commentators had speculated that the searches were a reprisal for criticism by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage, of the handover by the local government of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, now run as a museum, to the Russian Orthodox Church.
On Wednesday, Russian media reported that Novikov's case was connected to a larger case of over Rb100m in embezzled funds during major Russian Ministry of Culture restoration projects that has already landed Grigory Pirumov, a former deputy culture minister, in jail.
Some news agencies reported that another culture ministry official, Artem Novikov, reportedly the son of Mikhail, had also been detained on Tuesday, although the ministry denied it.
Piotrovsky in comments to Rossyskaya Gazeta, an official government newspaper, on Tuesday confirmed the arrest of the elder Novikov and connected it to the museum’s construction projects.
“Everything that is happening is connected, first of all, to the question of Hermitage construction,” Piotrovsky says.
“And where such big construction projects are taking place there is a lot of money, many various problems, and many dishonest contractors. But the financial activity of the Hermitage is checked all the time—by the Federal Security Service and Accounting Chamber. What regards the most recent events, 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.”