MOSCOW, January 14 (RIA Novosti) – Police have arrested a Moscow businessman accused of helping to embezzle over 55 million rubles ($1.65 million) during the renovation of Russia’s most famous museum, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday.
Arkady Akhmechet has been charged with large-scale fraud, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website. The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison under Russian law.
Police said Akhmechet oversaw financial operations at construction firms that stole money after being contracted to restore buildings belonging to the Hermitage Museum Complex between 2010 and 2013.
Akhmechet is the second suspect named by police in the embezzlement scheme, uncovered by Russia’s Audit Chamber in July.
The Interior Ministry said Lenoid Tamarov, the director of a contracting firm involved in the restoration, fled Russia after the start of police investigations but died in Israel in September under unclear circumstances.
Russia is working with Interpol to establish the context of Tamarov’s death, the ministry statement said.
An investigation into the embezzlement scheme was opened in September after Russia’s Audit Chamber said it had found violations in a contract worth 6.2 billion rubles ($190 million) to reconstruct the General Staff building in the Hermitage complex.
Police said the contractors, who agreed to construct glass ceilings over five courtyards on the complex grounds and equip them with anti-icing and snow removal systems, stole money by creating so-called double contracts that falsely billed money from firms that did not actually perform the work.
The management of the Hermitage Museum denied any involvement, saying it was only a client and was not involved in any financial aspect of the renovation.
Police said in September that a group of individuals were under investigation for their involvement in the case, though they have not yet publicly identified any additional suspects.