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Finland seizes artwork suspected of breaching EU sanctions on Russia

Finnish customs authorities have seized three shipments containing works of art returned to Russia from exhibitions in Italy and Japan, on suspicion of being subject to European Union sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine, the Finnish customs service said on Wednesday.

The shipments, containing paintings and sculptures, were stopped at Vaalimaa, a border post between Finland and Russia, on Friday and Saturday, according to a press release posted on the Finnish customs website, Tulli.

A spokesperson for the service, Mika Parkkonen, confirmed the seizure.

Mr Parkkonen said in a telephone interview that the shipments had an estimated insurance value of 42 million euros ($46 million), but gave no further details.

“The artworks were transported from Italy and Japan to Russia via Finland,” the statement on the website said. “They had been displayed at exhibitions.”

Images provided by the customs department showed the shipments in large wooden containers.

Sami Rakshit, the director of Finland’s customs control service, gave some details of the seizure at a press conference on Wednesday. According to Reuters, he told reporters that the works included antiques and had been temporarily loaned by Russian museums and art galleries.

The Russian news agency Tass reported that the works of art presented in Italy had been presented in two exhibitions: one, at the Piazza Scala gallery in Milan, with pieces from the State Hermitage and reserves the Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk and Gatchina museums; and another at the Museum of Modern Art in Udine, with works from the State Tretyakov Gallery and the National Museum of the East.

The customs service said the Finnish Foreign Ministry had confirmed that the European Union’s sanctions list “contains a paragraph on works of art” and that the ministry had opened a preliminary investigation to determine whether the works arrested in Vaalimaa contravened EU sanctions.

The Finnish authorities have indicated that they will also consult the European Commission in Brussels.

“The preliminary investigation will continue in the form of information gathering, international cooperation and requests for mutual assistance,” the statement on the customs service’s website said. “Finnish Customs aims to complete the investigation as soon as possible.”

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed report.

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