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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Nabbed for Smuggling

Russian troops in Chechnya detained a man trying to smuggle 14 paintings abroad, including three bearing inventory numbers from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the military command said.

The command press center identified the suspect as Lechi Abayev, a St. Petersburg resident and ethnic Chechen, Itar-Tass reported.

He was detained while driving a private car through a checkpoint on Chechnya’s border with the Russian republic of Dagestan to the east.

The paintings were confiscated and experts were called in to determine their origin, Itar-Tass said.

The director of the Hermitage, Mikhail Piotrovsky, said he had not been officially notified about the seizure, but was eagerly awaiting an appraisal of the paintings.

"As soon as we have adequate information about them, we will make a decision,’’ he said on ORT television.

Piotrovsky told NTV television the museum sometimes stamps numbers on pieces that are copied at the Hermitage, not just originals.

Hundreds of paintings are registered as missing from the Hermitage’s vast collection, he said, only a fraction of which is on display at the St. Petersburg site. The list includes pieces that disappeared during Nazi occupation in World War II.

Smuggling and other crime flourished in Chechnya after Russian troops pulled out in humiliation at the end of the 1994-96 war in the breakaway republic. Federal forces entered Chechnya again last September.