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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prized Violin Grounded By Red Tape

Just like Michael Jackson, who once tried to take a Cossack saber out of Russia, U.S. violinist Ernesto Farago ran up against Russia's peculiar laws on antiques when he tried to take his musical instrument out of the country.

Farago's 1940 Italian violin was confiscated April 14 by customs officials at Sheremetyevo Airport on the suspicion that he was trying to smuggle it out of Russia.

The incident seems to have been the result of a misunderstanding.

Farago, speaking from his home in Springfield, Virginia, said he failed to declare the instrument, worth $28,000, because he was misinformed by customs officials in the arrival terminal.

"I was told by an officer that if I was bringing in the instrument for professional purposes, there was no need for me to declare it," said Farago, who played two concerts in Voronezh, 300 kilometers south of Moscow.

He has now been separated from his beloved violin for nearly a month, but the saga should soon end happily.

The Culture Ministry is ready to issue permission to take the instrument out of the country. It is now only a matter of finding someone to assume the responsibility for transporting it to its owner.

Natalya Karpova, the ministry official in charge of the export and import of items of cultural and historical value, said all problems could have been avoided if Farago had declared the instrument upon his arrival in April.

Under Russian law, items older than 50 years are considered part of Russia's national and cultural heritage, and need Culture Ministry approval for export.

"It says on the customs declaration, that all valuables of a historical and cultural nature should be declared," said Vladimir Yemelyanov of the State Customs Committee. "This is so they can be taken out of the country again."

Cases of foreigners forgetting to declare musical instruments and other valuables are rare, Karpova said. For those who do, the standard procedure is to apply to the ministry for permission.

"We usually ask for proof of ownership. It can be anything from a sales receipt or even a childhood picture with the instrument," she said.

In the case of Farago's violin, the ministry "received a document from the U.S. confirming that Mr. Farago owns this instrument, so we are ready to issue the permission," Karpova said.

When Michael Jackson visited Russia in 1996, the pop star was given a saber by Alexander Korzhakov, President Boris Yeltsin's disgraced former bodyguard. The gift was confiscated by customs agents at the airport.