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Russia to inspect all state museums after Hermitage theft scandal

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Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive museum inspection after a scandal over the theft of 200 items from Saint Petersburg's Hermitage museum, a cultural official said Monday.

"The goal of this inspection is to put an end to the nonsensical idea that all museum employees are thieves and that pieces on exhibition are fakes," national cultural agency head Mikahil Shvydkoi told a meeting of the Union of Museums in Saint Petersburg.

It is the first inspection of its kind since a year-long one in 1976, Shvydkoi added.

Putin on Thursday ordered the inspection of all Russian museums after the theft of 221 works of art from the Hermitage and the disappearance of 274 drawings by avant-garde painter and architect Yakov Chernikhov from state archives.

Some of the drawings, which were stolen from state literature and arts archives in Moscow, were replaced by fakes.

"We have long tempted curators by paying them miserly salaries. We have long thought of them as saints, whose bags we don't go rummaging through," Shvydkoi said.

At the same meeting, Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky "asked forgiveness" for the thefts before about 30 colleagues, including directors of other major Russian museums.

Four new pieces stolen from the Hermitage -- silver dishes -- were found Monday near a police station in Saint Petersburg, local police announced.

Twenty-one pieces have been recovered so far, police said.



AFP 141829 GMT 08 06

COPYRIGHT 2006 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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