Cop Accused of Stealing Boy Statue

In the latest in a series of statue thefts, an Interior Ministry official was detained over the weekend on suspicion of stealing a bronze statue of a boy playing a flute from a Belgian restaurant in southwest Moscow.

The police lieutenant — a senior official in the Interior Ministry department that provides security for ministry property — was detained Saturday after security guards at the Jan Primus restaurant saw him take the statue from the lobby, Interfax reported, citing the restaurant's management.

Police and Jan Primus staff were tight-lipped Tuesday about the incident at the restaurant, located on Ulitsa Miklukho-Maklaya, near the Belyayevo metro station.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing restaurant employees, reported that the unidentified police lieutenant had dined with three friends until late in the evening. Shortly before paying the bill, he took the bronze statue, put it into the trunk of a Toyota Camry parked nearby, and returned to the table, the report said.

The statue was made to order for the restaurant in Thailand and was worth around 10,000 rubles ($400), Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

The diners were preparing to leave when the guards alerted the manager, who watched surveillance footage from the lobby and called the police, Noviye Izvestia reported.

The officer denied taking the statue, but the police took him to a nearby precinct and opened a criminal investigation, Noviye Izvestia said.

If charged and convicted of theft, he could face up to two years in prison.

Police spokeswoman Marina Molokova would neither confirm nor deny the incident Tuesday, saying only, "No comment."

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry department responsible for security on ministry territory said he could not immediately comment. A request for comment faxed to the department's head, Vladimir Shlemin, went unanswered.

A man who answered the phone at Jan Primus and identified himself as Denis said his manager had forbidden employees from discussing the incident. He identified the manager only by his first name and patronymic — Sergei Alexandrovich — and declined to give the manager's last name.

A woman who answered the phone at Jan Primus and identified herself as Yekaterina also said Sergei Alexandrovich was the only person authorized to comment.

Requests left with the employees Monday and Tuesday for the manager for comment went unanswered.

At least two other statue thefts have occurred in Moscow over the past three weeks. Unknown thieves stole a 200-kilogram bronze block of cheese from the arms of the giant statue A Fox and A Crow in northern Moscow and an alabaster bust of ballet dancer Rudolf Nuriyev in central Moscow. Both the cheese and the bust were later found.