By NATALIYA VASILYEVA, Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police on Monday found the painting that was stolen a day earlier from Moscow’s famed museum of Russian art in broad daylight before unsuspecting visitors.
The painting of mountain ridges by Arkhip Kuindzhi, titled “Ai-Petri. Crimea,” was stolen in front of confused visitors on Sunday evening at the Tretyakov Gallery in one of the most brazen Russian art heist in recent memory.
CCTV footage released by the police shows a young man calmly walking up to the painting, stopping to take a look and then taking it off the wall with other visitors looking on. He then crosses the hall and walks away.
The Interior Ministry said Monday that they have detained a 31-year-old suspect in the theft and recovered the painting, which had been hidden at a construction side outside Moscow. Police said the man was detained last December for drug possession and has been on bail since.
The man said in the video of interrogation posted online by the police that he “did not commit any crimes” and that he could not remember where he was on Sunday.
The painting had an insurance estimate of $185,000 but some other works by Kuindzhi have fetched more that $3 million at auctions.
The theft raised questions about security at the Tretyakov Gallery, one of Russia’s most renowned museums.
The Tretyakov was hit by another brazen crime last May when a man attacked a famous 19th-century painting with a metal stanchion. The man reportedly damaged the painting, which depicts Russia’s first czar cradling his dying son after striking him in a fit of rage, because he thought it to be historically inaccurate.
Russia’s Culture Minister said after Kuindzhi’s painting was recovered that it would push for all temporarily exhibitions at state-owned museums to be equipped with motion detectors.
Investigators have yet to establish whether the man had an accomplice or not.