Valery Shiryaev, Novaya Gazeta 12.03.2017
What is really behind the searches at the International Center of the Roerichs.
On 11 March, we published the article “The patron fled, the case lost, the searches conducted” – about the scandal around the Roerich Museum. Valery Shiryaev strongly disagree with the statement that the banker Bulochnik’s ‘laundering activity’ served as the only cause for searches, and he offers his perspective on the situation.
The International Center of the Roerichs faced a search warrant. It was officially announced that investigators had seized about 200 paintings and drawings donated to the ICR by its patron Boris Bulochnik, former head of Master-Bank currently in hiding. A law suit has been initiated against him and within the criminal case the paintings are considered to have been allegedly acquired criminally with the funds stolen from the bank.
The state media comments the case solely from this perspective. The readers and viewers are instilled a sense that there is a museum that is ‘Bulochnik’s pet project’ and its entire collection is under suspicion. Security forces and officials of Ministry of Culture and the State Museum of Oriental who actually conducted searches deliberately do not distinguish between the fled patron’s gifts and the whole collection of the Museum of the ICR. Meanwhile, almost entire collection of the ICR was brought by Shaposhnikova to the Soviet Union in 1990, and Boris Bulochnik got to know it in 1996.
Later, he turned Master-Bank in a huge laundry. It is well-known that he made money by cashing out business funds not inquiring about money origin (and not with depositors’ funds, as the media echo the officials), getting percentage. The ICR founder and director Shaposhnikova made a serious mistake having agreed to accept his help: Boris Bulochnik’s biography, as one would expect, inflicted severe damage to the ICR reputation.
But what museum worker and collector would turn down donated paintings? Owners of large art collections from around the world regularly show up in scandals with suspicious transactions. And if not the investigators but the court proves that the donation was illegal, paintings can be confiscated. But not before.
And all this might be recognized as true. But if with a broader view, this truth reveals itself as part of a huge security operation built on lies. The story would not be honest without the facts which I am going to mention below. All documents mentioned in this article are available at the editorial office.
At the beginning of June last year investigators came to the ICR Museum and told his managers that in the criminal case against Master Bank management they consider the case of Khafizova’s purchasing 48 Roerich’s paintings on the bank funds, and that 9 paintings were in the ICR Museum. What did the ICR do? They immediately removed the paintings from their balance sheet and packed them ready to transfer for the investigation. An inventory and seizure protocol was made.
But investigators didn’t want to take responsibility for the storage of expensive exhibits, they left paintings in the Museum for safekeeping. Of course, the relevant document was drawn up. Subsequently, the police checked the conditions in which material evidence was kept, and museum workers reported to them in writing. And that’s how the material evidence is called:
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of a Chinese girl. 1926. Tempera on canvas, oil. 79,0×170,2
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of Natasha Rambova. 1931. Oil on canvas, tempera, gouache. 137,8×107,2
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of Mrs. Katherine Campbell. 1926-1931. Canvas, oil. 183,3×91,8
– Roerich S.N. Tibetan woman. 1926. Tempera on canvas, oil
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of a lama. 1925. Tempera on canvas. 122,4×91,8
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of Mrs. Katherine Campbell. 1926 Oil on canvas. 122,4×91,7
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of Mrs. Katherine Campbell. 1926-1931. Canvas, oil. 107,1×86,2
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of Mrs. Katherine Campbell. 1926 Tempera on canvas. 101.9×60,7
– Roerich S.N. Portrait of a lama. 1923. Thick cardboard. Tempera. 98,2×65,6
Yes, the material evidence in the case of Master-Bank left for depositing at the ICR on 9 June were the very same paintings which representatives of seven investigation teams (!) and over 40 members of the Moscow riot police OMON came to seize on Tuesday 7 March. At the time when the front door of the museum was opened with a chainsaw, all the paintings had been, figuratively speaking, ‘a documented property of the investigation’ for 10 months already.
No other paintings were in the presented seizure order. It was all about the same. But the seizure wasn’t conducted by investigators. Medinskiy’s counselor Kirill Rybak and Deputy Director General of Research of the Oriental Art State Museum Tigran Mkrtychev were walking around the building. Without any regulations or expertise they determined by eye which item were to be seized.
And instead of 9 stored items about 200 ones have been taken from the ICR. The security forces say so, but no one else knows how many of them have been actually taken – the ICR museum workers were forbidden to open the packages prepared for delivery and they refused to sign the protocol, and rightly so. As a result, it was signed by a security guard. Now any missing items might be found by the ICR. That is why the items were taken to the Oriental Museum but not to the great repository of the Pushkin Museum located 50 meters away from the ICR.
From bad to worse. Having received a negative conclusion from the Ministry of Justice (in general, the Roerichs’ doctrine is the apology of pacifism), Mkrtychev and lawyer of the SMOA Izbachkov wrote official letters to the prosecutor’s office and to the Federal Security Service. Therein, the International Centre of the Roerichs (ICR) appeared as an organization being the head of a radical movement with the aim of armed resistance to power. This is the continuation of the campaign in 2014, when the Ministry of Culture handed to the prosecutor’s office and the Federal Security Service letters of Litvinov, unknown to anyone, (it wasn’t possible to determine who was it, but there was conducted a full-scale check on the anonymous person), who claimed that the museum trained militants, who were ready to go to the Red Square with Molotov cocktails.
Having understood that the charges of the SMOA, reflected in the claim to the Arbitration Court, cannot be a basis for termination of agreement on gratuitous use of the premises of Lopuckhins’ Estate with the ICR, the unofficial organizers of the attack applied a trick characteristic to “black realtors”. By the order of the territorial administration of the Federal Property Management Agency in September, 2016, the third year inspection at the ICR on the use of the Lopukhins estate began. On December 19, from the act of this unscheduled audit, approved on December, 6 by the deputy head of the Federal Agency for State Property Management in Moscow of M.V. Firsov, it was found out that “according to the information provided from the unified state register of legal entities, the addresses of the inspected objects are used as legal addresses of 17 organizations …”. It turned out that from January to July, 2016, the Federal Tax Service No. 46 of Moscow secretly registered 17 newly established commercial organizations at the museum’s address.
The leadership of the Ministry of Culture and the SMOA have immediately handed over the material of the act of the Federal Property Management Agency to L!FE of Gabrelyanov: “As the press service of the Ministry of Culture reported, the arbitration cases were initiated by the Museum of the East because of the violations by the ICR of the conditions for the use of property, as well as the improper provision of state property to third parties”. Of course, the ICR ran to present complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the SK about fraud.
The leadership of the ICR informed the journalists more than once about the fact that the security officials participated in the operation. The post of the head of the ICR Stetsenko on the Russian domain mail.ru was hacked many times. Over the past year, he changed the password five times, however it did not help. His mail on the American domain gmail.com worked immaculately. I believe everyone who has the address on Mr. Usmanov’s resource should take this into consideration.
These are the facts. And the donation of paintings by an unscrupulous patron of art is a small episode, wisely used by officials at the organization of a grandiose raider capture, unfolding before our eyes. If the court authorizes the eviction of the museum of Nicholas Roerich on Monday, the Ministry of Culture will open a direct road to the appropriation of Russia’s largest non-state collection in spite of the well-known will of Nicholas Roerich, who directly denied the state possession of it.
About personal. I like painting, but I really miss the pictures of the Roerichs. The faith that comes from my parents and to which I will be faithful to the end is atheism. I do not even have motivation to take the side of their teachings and struggles. But there are two figures in this epic who personify the moral shape and character of both parties, which will not leave indifferent a curious observer.
A year and a half ago, when Medinsky initiated a new, as it seems now, the last storm of the ICR, at the request of my colleague I met his old friend, the employee of of the SMOA, Tigran Mkrtychev. We have talked twice in a cafe near the editorial office. He calmly informed then that the decision “upstairs” was accepted, the ICR museum would be destroyed in the nearest future, the state would confiscate the collection, and he was elected to the position of the future director. After all, he knows better than others how the ideas of Russian cosmism of the Roerichs, which are inseparable from their paintings, can be used with PR to promote the image of modern Russia in the West.
His goal is to convince me of my honesty and devotion to science and art, so that I would remember about it when he becomes director. Cute, with a sense of humor and charm, the doctor of sciences was ardent in proving that it would be better that a new director becomes a scientist than an illiterate official, since there is no way out remained.
I remarked that the ICR would not surrender, so how will the future director act? Tigran Konstantinovich assured that he was a decent person and everything would be done strictly through the court or voluntarily. Last autumn, he had already written denunciations to the Federal Security Service and the prosecutor’s office, and on March 7, he stood at the entrance to the Lopukhins’ estate and his colleague was dragged – the employee of the exhibition department of the ICR. Such a moral evolution has a powerful corrective factor: a person desires strongly to become a director.
The vice-president of the ICR, Alexander Vitalievich Stetsenko, who confronts him, cannot be frightened by demonstrative external observation “in the bumper”. He was still a senior lieutenant, commander of a motorized company, in Afghanistan in the advanced units of the Soviet armada in December 1979. He stormed the airfield in Shindand, from where the bombers loyal to the dead Amin were taking off to bomb Kabul. For a year and a half of continuous raids and battles on the northwestern border with Pakistan, he received ahead of time the rank of captain, medals and the Order of the Red Star. He retired as Deputy Chief of Staff of the division.
Stetsenko, with a completely military determination, changed his fate after meeting with Shaposhnikova and he is faithful to this choice. Around him there are some elderly men and women devoted to the museum and ready to work without payment. Moreover, no one else is with them. Neither money, nor fair court, but they cope: they have principles.
And a subtle specialist in Buddhism calling to the Federal Security Service and a group of comrades have a mighty administrative apparatus behind, bugging, external surveillance, investigators, a budget for the “development” of the facility, PR consultants and even more. Nevertheless, a year has passed, and he is still not a director. That is why this story attracts. I have always respected those who fight to the end in an environment without ammunition, water and hope. There is something native therein.