Russia probes smuggling of church relics to U.S.

MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Interior Ministry is investigating a smuggling case in which over 3 tons of valuable Russian church and cultural relics were taken to the U.S., a senior ministry official said on Tuesday.

The 17th-19th century items, worth more than 7.5 million rubles ($226,000), were taken to the United States by an American national with the help of an antiques expert working for Russia's culture agency, Gen. Oleg Logunov said. The items were seized in the U.S. in 2008.

The expert had intentionally vastly understated the value of the objects of art, Logunov said, adding that, "The cargo seized in 2008 in the United States totaled 3.2 tons."

Logunov said the smuggled items included icons, icon cases and Holy Doors, many of which were stolen during Soviet-era anti-religion campaigns and WWII. Some of the items were stolen more recently.

The general thanked U.S. security bodies for help. He also said the probe had been complicated by the need to conduct a costly expert examination of the items in the U.S.

Logunov said more attempts to smuggle church relics had been prevented by Russian Customs officials since the investigation was launched.

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