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Painting stolen from Russia's Hermitage Museum returned

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Moscow (dpa) - A painting that was stolen from Russia's Hermitage Museum in 2001 was returned Wednesday to the office of Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the country's Communist Party.

French artist's Jean-Leon Gerome's Orientalist painting Pool in a Harem was delivered by an unidentified man to Zyuganov's Moscow office, the politician said in remarks carried by Interfax.

Experts from Russia's Culture Ministry, Zyuganov said, "have preliminarily confirmed the painting's authenticity and have informed Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky."

The 1876 painting was stolen from the St Petersburg museum in 2001 after a museum employee who was monitoring the room stepped out. Without any alarm to guard it, the painting was cut out of its frame in a matter of seconds, experts said at the time. No-one has ever been arrested for the crime.

The painting, which is estimated to be worth 1 million dollars, was folded into quarters by the thieves, Zyuganov, a legislator in the Russian parliament said, and it had been badly damaged.

Russia's top Communist noted, however, that officials from the culture ministry said it could likely be mended by restorers.

The painting depicts two nude women lounging near a bath in an Arab-style salon as a dark-skinned peddler holds out a water pipe.

Zyuganov said he received a phone call Wednesday from an unidentified person who said he had an original painting that looked like a work that had been stolen from the Hermitage five years ago.

The painting was later dropped outside of Zyuganov's office, and the lawmaker found on the Internet a 2001 notice from the Hermitage in which the theft was announced. Zyuganov called the culture ministry, which immediately sent specialists to his office.

Pool in a Harem, which is also known as Harem Pool or Harem Bath, was obtained by Tsar Alexander III in 1876. It is one of four Gerome's at the Hermitage, the world's second-largest museum, after Paris' Louvre.

Copyright 2006 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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