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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Art 'stolen to order' in Russia
Hermitage museum, St Petersburg
The Hermitage in St Petersburg has been hit by thefts
Art and antiques have become the latest target for organised crime in Russia, according to the country's head of criminal police, Vladimir Gordyenko.

Russian police are currently looking for 40,000 stolen works of art and among the missing works are two sculptures by 19th-Century French artist Auguste Rodin.

Also popular among art thieves are the works of early 20th Century Russian avant-garde painters such as Kasimir Malevich and Marc Chagal.

'Organised gangs

Mr Gordyenko said that works of art were increasingly being stolen to order and that organised criminal gangs were often fulfilling orders placed by rich art lovers and dealers, often from abroad.

These gangs often included former museum and library employees, or even artists, he added.

The alert comes only months after police recovered five stolen paintings worth 1.4m in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.

The paintings, all by well-known 18th and 19th-Century Russian artists were stolen from Tashkent Fine Arts Museum in October.

They were recovered in January an unrelated police raid in the Uzbek capital.

In March 2001 Jean-Leon Gerome's 1876 painting Harem Bath was stolen from one of the world's great art collections, the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

See also:

14 Mar 01 | Entertainment
UK signs art theft convention
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Appeal to save unique Soviet art
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