A Fugitive Russian Billionaire’s Cache of Art Has Been Discovered in a Village Outside of Moscow

A journalist came upon the heap of 20th-century Russian art, which belonged to a private museum, in a storage space.

Alexei Ananyev, who is on the run along with his brother Dmitry for embezzling $1.6 billion. (Photo by Stanislav KrasilnikovTASS via Getty Images)

Two brothers—Moscow-based art collectors and bankers Alexei and Dmitry Ananyev—are currently on the run. In September, a Moscow court put out an order of arrest in absentia for embezzlement of $1.6 billion by the brothers. Meanwhile, a Russian journalist with Mash.ru has come across a hidden hoard of hundreds of millions of rubles’ worth of twentieth-century Russian art and rare books that were in the hands of a private museum founded by Alexei. That collection was found secreted away in a storage facility near Moscow. 

The Art Newspaper reports that Alexei had earned respect among the Moscow cultural scene for his private museum, the Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA), founded in 2011 and located in a former Moscow factory building. It is apparently now defunct. The museum’s director, Nadezhda Stepanova, told the press that the museum’s holdings had started out as Alexei’s private collection and were later transferred to a foundation.

The recovered artworks, Moscow lawyer Andrei Knyazev told Kommersant FM radio, will likely be distributed among state museums rather than sold off, though he acknowledged that there is no existing protocol to guide their decision-making.

Alexei Ananyev had a net worth of $1.4 billion in 2017, according to Forbes, which says he earned his keep in IT and banking, and that Technoserv, owned by the Ananyev brothers, is Russia’s largest systems integration firm. Alexei’s lavish spending on art earned headlines; he bought George Nissky’s moody landscape Over the Snowy Fields for $2.3 million at Sotheby’s London, setting a high-water mark for postwar Soviet art. (The IRRA later organized an exhibition of Nissky’s work.) IRRA was also an international lender, having lent to exhibitions such as “Red: Art and Utopia in the Land of the Soviets” at Paris’s Grand Palais in 2017.

The trouble started when the state bailed out the brothers’ bank, Promsvyazbank, in 2017; the bank’s new management brought to light the story of the missing art. Shareholders have filed suit against the bank in Moscow and London, reports Forbes. The Art Newspaper says that several journalists claim that art had been moved to a Cypriot company where Ananyev’s wife has ties.

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