Deputy director of Hermitage suspected of embezzlement during Reserve House restoration

Deputy director of Hermitage suspected of embezzlement during Reserve House restoration
Mikhail Novikov, deputy director of the Hermitage Museum

The reason for the house arrest of Deputy Director of the State Hermitage Museum for Capital Construction Mikhail Novikov has become known.

The criminal case against Deputy Director of Hermitage Mikhail Novikov has been initiated on suspicion of swindling on an especially large scale (part 4 of Art. 159 of the Russian Criminal Code) during the restoration of the Winter Palace's Reserve House, Kommersant reports.

According to the investigation, the swindling was carried out after the signing of two government contracts worth 2.4 billion rubles ($42.6bln) with the infamous Baltstroy CJSC, the leaders of which are defendants in the so-called ‘case of restorers.’

Based on these contracts, not only the Winter Palace's Reserve House, but also its facilities for the laboratory-custodial and administrative building of the museum were subject to restoration. Novikov’s lawyer Aleksey Gilinsky from Ilyushikhin and Partners, which represents the interests of the Hermitage museum, confirmed this information to the publication.

According to the data available on the state procurement website, the contracts for the reconstruction of the Reserve House built in 1710 were concluded between the Hermitage Museum and Baltstroy CJSC on a non-alternative basis. Baltstroy was the only participant in public tenders, due to which they were recognized as failed. The first contract in the amount of 1.184 billion rubles ($21,045,600) was signed in 2012; its amount increased to 2.4 billion rubles ($42,660,000) within two years by concluding additional agreements and a second contract.

According to the lawyer, during the execution of works, the contractor received claims for breach of contract conditions, but fines and penalties were paid without appealing to the court. At present, the restored Hermitage Reserve House was commissioned and accepted for maintenance by the museum's operating services.

Head of Baltstroy Dmitry Sergeev and Manager of the same company Aleksandr Kochenov, with whom Novikov concluded contracts, are defendants in a high-profile case of ‘restorers,’

instituted by the FSB in connection with the embezzlement of budget funds for the restoration of cultural heritage sites. The investigators estimated the damage from embezzlement at 140 million rubles ($2,488,500).

Let us recall that March 29, the Lefortovo Court of Moscow placed Novikov under house arrest on charges of swinlding, the details of which had not been reported. On the same day, it was reported that his son – Head of the Department of Investment, Restoration, and Construction of the Ministry of Culture Artem Novikov – was also detained, but later the ministry denied them.

On the same day, as part of the investigation of this case, the FSB officers conducted a search and seized documents from the Hermitage Museum. Based on the examination of the seized items, the investigation has to establish whether the volume of work performed by Baltstroy had been overstated.

It should be noted that the Hermitage is currently suing another company, namely Mekhstroytrans, due to a fine under the contract worth 3.667 billion rubles ($651,809,250) for the construction of a museum depository. Novikov is also involved in this project.

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