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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Likbez: Taking Your Treasures Home

When it comes to exporting some antique items, the word from experts is: Don't even try.

"If a valuable antique is more than 100 years old, it is almost impossible to take it out of Russia," said Oleg Stetsyura, director of Gelos auction house. "If it's between 50 and 100, your chances are better."

However, even those items can be a problem: Officials said Monday that a U.S. diplomat was being investigated on suspicion of trying to smuggle 75 rare Soviet posters out of the country -- a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison and a 1 million ruble fine (about $38,600). The diplomat was allowed to fly out of Russia but the posters, said to include national treasures of museum value, were confiscated.

If in doubt, take a photo of the antique before you buy it and show it to the Federal Service for Media Law Compliance and Cultural Heritage, said Denis Lukashin, director of Art Consulting, which provides historical and chemical expertise services. The agency is known in Russian as Rosokhrankultura.

"Sometimes people face a criminal charge at the border because they were in a rush or didn't think about the necessary documentation," Lukashin said. "In one case, a person had a recently painted icon, but on a very old piece of wood. Little things like that can cause you a lot of wasted time and energy."

To avoid unnecessary border conflicts, you need to obtain a document from the Culture and Press Ministry that describes your antique as having no cultural value that would prevent it from leaving the country. There are two different procedures, for older and more recently made objects.

If your artwork or object is not more than 50 years old, you need to go to the culture ministry branch on Ulitsa Arbat. Take three photos of your item, a photocopy of your passport and the proof of purchase. On site you will have to fill out a form describing your item and give all of the papers to ministry staff. A small fee is charged for the appraisal service, which you have to pay at a branch of Sberbank. Return with a receipt and instructions on where to pick up your documents when they are ready -- usually within several days.

For items more than 50 years old, you have to follow a different procedure. First, call the Department of Preservation of Cultural Treasures to make an appointment. When you go to the appointment, take three color photos of the item, a copy of your passport, and the proof of purchase or ownership of the item. Usually it takes two to three weeks to get the necessary papers ready, and even longer if additional chemical or art history evaluation is required.

If your item is proven to have cultural value but doesn't fall under a category of unexportable items, you will need to pay a State Duty fee. The fee for items more than 50 years old is 10 percent of market value, and 5 percent for items 50 years old or less.

A list of documents and rules is posted on the cultural heritage service's web site:

Department of Preservation of Cultural Treasures, 7 Kitaigorodsky Proyezd, Room 103, 928-5089 (call ahead to make an appointment), M. Kitai-Gorod.

Culture and Press Ministry, Moscow branch committee, 53/6 Ul. Arbat, 244-7675, M. Smolenskaya, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.