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2 paintings stolen from Russia's Hermitage museum found, to be returned

2 paintings stolen from Russia's Hermitage museum found, to be returned

Two paintings stolen from Russia's Hermitage Museum have been found in Moldova and will soon be returned, Moldova's president said Friday.
But which paintings they were and how they got to Moldova remained a mystery. The Hermitage said in a statement Friday that no paintings had been stolen from its funds.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin told his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on Friday that the paintings were recovered three days ago after a long police investigation.
Voronin did not identify the works or say how they were found.
In Moldova, a former Soviet republic, the Interior Ministry confirmed the paintings had been found. But spokeswoman Ala Meleca said the investigation was ongoing and no details would be released until Tuesday.
Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency, citing an unidentified law enforcement source in Moldova, said the paintings were believed to be by Vasily Polenov and Boris Ioganson.
Polenov was a prominent late-19th century painter best known for landscapes. Boris Ioganson was a Soviet-era artist who painted in the Socialist Realist style.
But the Hermitage, the former Winter Palace of the czars, is not known to have Soviet-era art.
The St. Petersburg museum announced in July 2006 that 221 items _ including jewelry, religious icons, silverware and richly enameled objects worth about US$5 million (euro3.8 million) _ had been stolen. There was no mention, however, of stolen paintings.
The husband of a late curator at the museum was convicted in the thefts last year. He confessed that he and his wife had been involved in the thefts, which took place over several years.
The thefts highlighted lax security and antiquated record-keeping at Russian museums. Vladimir Putin, who was president of Russia at the time, ordered a nationwide inventory of museum artwork.
Voronin met Medvedev during a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States being held on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.
Anatoly Vilkov, a deputy head of the Russian state agency in charge of protection of art, also said that his agency was unaware of any paintings stolen or missing from the Hermitage, Russian news reports said. He said his agency had asked Moldovan officials to provide more details.