World

Russian police arrest suspect in brazen gallery heist

Russian police say they've arrested a man caught on camera taking a painting off the wall of a major Moscow art gallery and strolling out with it under his arm.

Man took painting off wall, strolled out of Tretyakov gallery with it under his arm

The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has recovered a painting that was brazenly stolen off the wall on Sunday. It's the second embarrassing incident at the gallery in less than a year. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russian police said on Monday they had arrested a man caught on camera taking a painting off the wall of a major Moscow art gallery and strolling out with it under his arm. 

Visitors at the State Tretyakov Gallery on Sunday barely gave the man a second look, taking him for an employee.

Ai Petri. Crimea, a mountain scene painted by Russian landscape artist Arkhip Kuindzhi in 1908, is worth around $1 million US, state TV said, though it was insured for only around $200,000.

The 31-year-old suspect, who wasn't publicly identified, denied stealing the painting. Police said it was recovered on a nearby building site undamaged after the suspect admitted where he had hidden it.

Culture Ministry official Vladislav Kononov said: "In a rating of the most stupid crimes of the 21st century, he has grounds to deserve an honourable mention."

A screen grab taken from video footage shows a man walking with a painting at Tretyakov art gallery in Moscow. (Reuters TV)

Police are looking for possible accomplices in what they are treating as a pre-planned heist of an object of special cultural value, a crime that carries a jail term of up to 15 years. 

The painting was on loan from the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and had not been set up with an alarm.

Zelfira Tregulova, director of the Tretyakov, said all temporary exhibits would now be fitted with electronic alarms, blaming the incident on a huge rise in visitor numbers which she said made it harder to track people.

Ai Petri. Crimea, painted by Russian landscape artist Arkhip Kuindzhi in 1908, is worth around $1 million US, state TV said, though it was insured for only around $200,000. (Russia Ministry of Internal Affairs/Twitter)

A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin played down the incident, saying art thefts occur in other countries and noting the painting had been found quickly.

The Ministry of Culture said it had ordered security checks at all of Russia's "top flight" museums. 

It is the second embarrassing incident at the Tretyakov in less than a year after a man damaged one of the gallery's most famous paintings with a metal pole last May.