HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finnish customs said on Wednesday they had stopped works of art worth around 42 million euros ($46 million) from being returned to Russia last weekend due to European Union sanctions, and would consult with Brussels on their status as luxury goods.
Customs seized three haulages of paintings, statues and antiquities on their way back to Russia via Finland from Italy and Japan, where they were temporarily on loan from Russian museums and art galleries, said Sami Rakshit, director of the Finnish customs enforcement department.
Rakshit said pieces of art are considered luxury items that fall under the EU’s sanctions against Russia, imposed for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia calls it “a special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbour.
The confiscated items remain Russian property and would be stored under the supervision of the Finnish Heritage Agency, the customs said.
Russian news agency Moskva quoted the Russian ministry of culture as saying that the works of art stopped by Finland had been loaned to Italy from the collections of Russia’s leading art galleries such as The Hermitage Museum and Tsarskoye Selo state museum in St. Petersburg as well as the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Other works of art arriving from Japan originated from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, it added.
Finnish customs suspect a dozen people involved in the transportation of trying to breach sanctions rules, they said.
Last month two museums in Milan said they would return several works of loaned art after Russian museums requested their early return.
($1 = 0.9159 euros)
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)