Russia's deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov has been detained on embezzlement charges, Russian state media reported on 15 March. Earlier in the day, the Federal Security Service (FSB) announced
that several high-ranking culture ministry officials and businessmen were under investigation for allegedly “embezzling state funds allocated for restoration work on cultural heritage sites”.
“This is a real shock for all of us,” culture minster Vladimir Medinsky told the Ria Novosti news service
. “We are working with the investigators, we will provide all necessary assistance, and the official position of the ministry will be formulated in the nearest future.”
An unnamed source in the culture ministry told the Tass news agency
that the investigations were connected to the restoration of two convents in Moscow, including the Novodevichy, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. The source said investigators are also looking into the restoration of the Hermitage in St Petersburg and two sites in the Pskov region: a theater and Izborsk Fortress.
Preservationists have previously raised concerns surrounding the work done on the 14th-century Izborsk Fortress near the Estonian border, which was restored in 2012 to mark the 1150th anniversary of Russian statehood. A 2013 audit by the government’s Accounting Chamber found that 60 million rubles (roughly $2 million at the time) in funding for Izborsk went unaccounted for.
President Vladimir Putin has lashed out at the culture ministry
for failing to preserve monuments at a meeting in the Kremlin in December. On Tuesday, he questioned whether interior ministry officials were doing enough to fight corruption.