MOSCOW, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – More than 50 million rubles ($1.5 million) was embezzled during the renovation of buildings belonging to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum Complex, the Russian Interior Ministry said Thursday.
According to the ministry, between 2010 and 2013 a group of undisclosed individuals introduced “unreasonable changes” into the previously approved design specifications and estimates for reconstruction work in the eastern wing of St. Petersburg's former General Staff building, part of the Hermitage Museum Complex.
The individuals acted “with a purpose to embezzle budget funds intended for reconstruction, renovation and development of historic and cultural objects of federal significance.”
Searches are under way in Moscow and St. Petersburg in connection with the case.
Russia’s Audit Chamber said Wednesday that it had uncovered “indications of corruption” in a contract worth 6.2 billion rubles ($190 million) between the Culture Ministry, the Intarsia restoration company and the state-owned St. Petersburg Building Project Investment Fund.
The oversight body said that in 2010, the ministry and the fund canceled a tender for carrying out reconstruction work in the General Staff building. The contract was instead awarded to Intarsia.
The 6.2 billion ruble contract was subsequently signed with Intarsia, according to the Audit Chamber. But the price was “economically unreasonable,” prosecutors said.
The management of the Hermitage Museum denied any involvement, saying it was only a customer and was not involved in any financial aspect of the renovation.
“Allocation of funds and preparation of construction documents that justify the use of these funds is the duty of the project’s contractor, specifier and ordering party, not the recipient Hermitage,” the museum said in a statement.
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