Russian investigators have begun interviewing people involved in the export of Scythian gold from the territory of Crimea. Former officials of the Ministry of Culture did not organize the registration of the collection in the museum fund of Russia in a timely manner, they say in the working group on international legal issues at the Permanent Mission of Crimea. The deadline for filing an appeal against the decision of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal is 26 January.
The Investigative Committee plans to check whether it is necessary to open a criminal case under articles on the theft and non-return of Scythian gold to Russia, which was originally stored in the Crimean Museum. “There are surveys of those involved in the export of Scythian gold from the territory of Crimea, it turns out, and this is the main question, what was done to return it, were these measures enough,” the deputy head of the working group on international legal issues told TASS with the permanent representation of Crimea under the President of Russia Alexander Molokhov.
Later, in an interview with RBC, the official explained that the check was being carried out under the articles “Theft of objects of special historical, scientific, artistic or cultural value committed by an organized group” (164 of the Criminal Code) and “Failure to return cultural property exported outside Russia within the prescribed period” (190 CC). It started in November.
Chairman of the Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin instructed to study the situation with the non-return of the Scythian gold immediately after the Dutch court rejected the Russian side’s appeal against the decision to transfer the collection to Ukraine. The Department of Legal Support and International Cooperation of the UK, in cooperation with the Russian Foreign Ministry, was supposed to assist in carrying out verification activities.
In February 2014, the collection of Scythian gold, consisting of 2 thousand artifacts and collected from four museums on the peninsula, was taken to the exhibition “Crimea: Gold and the Secrets of the Black Sea” in Amsterdam. In March, Crimea became a region of Russia, but the Dutch authorities decided not to transfer the exhibits to either Ukraine or Crimean museums.
In 2016, the Amsterdam court allowed Kiev to take the Scythian gold. In October 2021, the Russian side’s appeal against this court decision was rejected. The collection still remains in the Netherlands. In 2014, employees of the Ministry of Culture and their Crimean colleagues did not organize the transfer and formalize the collection to the Russian museum fund “in time”. “There are specific officials who gave instructions,” he said.
The reaction of Kiev and Moscow
After the refusal of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal to return the collection to Russia and the conclusion that “the objects are part of the cultural heritage of Ukraine”, President Volodymyr Zelensky declared a “long-awaited victory.” “I am grateful to the court for a fair decision. We always return ours. First, we will return the Scythian gold, and then the Crimea, ”he wrote on Twitter. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called “securing a solution” for the return of Scythian gold among the “major achievements” of Ukrainian diplomacy for 2021, along with the creation of the Crimean Platform summit, the trip of President Zelensky to the United States and the formation of the “Associated Trio” (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova).
The Russian side declares that it will continue to seek the return of the Scythian gold to Russia. Crimean museums still have the opportunity to appeal to the court of cassation – the Supreme Court of Holland. The cassation can be filed until January 26.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the appeals court’s verdict as “an extremely dangerous precedent” that could undermine trust between museum communities in different countries. The court, in her opinion, was guided by “exclusively political motives.”
“The Dutch judges completely ignored the indisputable fact that Scythian gold is the cultural and historical heritage of the peoples of the Crimean peninsula, on which these artifacts were discovered and which they never left,” Zakharova pointed out.
The head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, asked President Vladimir Putin in December to involve the Prosecutor General’s Office in the trial. He also noted that the position of Ukraine in court is represented by the state, and from Russia only four museum organizations are involved in the process – the Kerch Historical and Cultural Reserve (later became part of the East Crimean), the Central Museum of Taurida, the Bakhchisarai Historical and Cultural Reserve and the National reserve “Chersonese Tauride”. “In my opinion, the necessary party in the case should be the state, not the Crimean museums,” Aksyonov emphasized the need to balance the parties in this dispute.
If the Netherlands transfers artifacts to the Ukrainian side, they may end up in Zelensky’s personal collection, the head of Crimea believes. Nearly all Ukrainian leaders have tried to find artifacts on the peninsula through “black archaeologists,” Aksyonov said. “I think that we will not find the ends anymore. Everything that falls into the custody of Ukrainian officials – write letters, ”he added. The estimated insurance value of the Scythian gold is about €2 million, and the real value of the exhibits is much higher.
All this time the collection is in the Allard Pearson Museum. As of the end of 2016, the debt for the storage of artifacts by the Dutch side amounted to €111,000. The country that eventually takes the collection will pay the bills issued by the museum.