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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hermitage Thief Gets 5 Years

Itar-TassZavadsky was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for the art theft.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A St. Petersburg court Thursday sentenced Nikolai Zavadsky to five years in prison for his role in the State Hermitage Museum robberies that rocked the cultural establishment when the news broke last summer.

Zavadsky, 55, a part-time history teacher, was ordered to serve five years less time served in a prison colony and to pay the Hermitage 7.38 million rubles (just over $282,000) in compensatory damages.

The theft of 221 art objects, including jewelry, silver and enamels, worth an estimated $5 million, came to light last summer during a scheduled inventory. Zavadsky was convicted of stealing 77 of the artworks.

"We asked for real incarceration, and the court sentenced the accused to five years," the prosecutor in the case told Interfax. "We are satisfied even though we asked for six years."

Zavadsky's lawyer, Lyudmila Mikhailova, said no decision had been made about whether to file an appeal. "I haven't spoken with my client, so I can't say whether we will appeal. On the whole, we expected this sort of sentence," she told Interfax.

During the course of the trial, Zavadsky confessed to stealing the artworks and to selling them. Mikhailova said last August that Zavadsky had sold the objects in order to buy insulin for his diabetic wife.

Larisa Zavadskaya, a Hermitage curator, died of a heart attack in October 2006 at the start of the inventory in her department that eventually brought the thefts to light.

Zavadsky blamed his late wife, saying she was the mastermind behind the robberies and that she had compelled him to go along.

Of four people detained in the case, only Zavadsky was brought to trial.

A local antiques dealer, Maxim Shepel, was detained last year but released without charge.

The Zavadskys' son, also named Nikolai, worked at the Hermitage from 1998 to 2004 as a forwarding agent. He maintained his innocence after being detained by police last summer. Investigators failed to find proof of his participation in the robberies, and he was subsequently released.

A fourth suspect, Ivan Sobolev, a history lecturer at St. Petersburg State University, was detained in early August 2006 and released in mid-November. Police said Sobolev had been implicated only in thefts that occurred before 1995, and that the 10-year statute of limitations had therefore expired.

Thirty-one stolen objects recovered by police have been returned to the Hermitage. The most valuable of them, a 19th-century icon titled "The Assembly of All Saints," valued at $200,000, was recovered Aug. 3 in a garbage can following an anonymous tip.

Most of the recovered items were returned in August and September 2006. The Hermitage has appealed repeatedly to collectors and antiques dealers, but little further progress has been made.

The compensatory damages Zavadsky was ordered to pay are equivalent to the estimated value of the unreturned items.

It remained unclear how Zavadsky would be able to pay the fine. Before his incarceration, Zavadsky taught part-time at the Lesgaft Physical Culture Academy and the St. Petersburg Academy for Business and Law.

During his final remarks Wednesday, Zavadsky asked for a suspended sentence in order to be able to work and earn money to repay the Hermitage's losses.

The high-profile theft highlighted the vulnerability of the country's museums and the lack of transparency in the antiques market.

Shortly after the thefts were made public July 31, 2006, President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to conduct an inventory of all the nation's museums.

Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky resisted calls for his resignation in the wake of the scandal.

The Hermitage spends about 20 million rubles ($746,000) on security each year.