Hermitage curator 'stole to buy medicine'

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The Independent Online

The Russian museum curator who stole artefacts from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg did so to buy medicine that she couldn't afford on her salary, her husband has claimed.

Of the 221 items, worth £2.6m, that have disappeared from the Hermitage, including gifts to Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II, only 13 have been recovered.

Nikolai Zavadsky, who has confessed to selling the stolen goods to pawnbrokers, said the couple were driven to theft by poverty and a need to safeguard his spouse's health. He said his wife, Larissa Zavadskaya, earned just 3,000 roubles (£60) a month as a curator and needed extra money to buy insulin to treat her diabetes. She died of a heart attack last year as an inventory of the repository she guarded began. Her salary was well below the national average of about 8,000 roubles.

The theft has prompted President Vladimir Putin to demand a full inventory of all of Russia's museums.

Mr Zavadsky has confessed to handling only 53 of the stolen items. How the other 168 artefacts were stolen, and by whom, remains a mystery though the couple's son, also called Nikolai, has been arrested as a suspect. He worked at the Hermitage from 1998 until 2004 but hasnot yet been charged.

A third suspect, an antiques dealer called Maksim Shepel, has been arrested but has been confined to a psychological ward after trying to poke out one of his eyes while suffering from deep depression.