According to the Uzbek general prosecutor’s office newspaper, Huquq, Uzbekistan’s State Arts Museum in Tashkent has suffered ‘major’ losses to embezzlement, which a gang within its workforce performed for $100-$800 per piece. The chief curator and two other museum employees have been convicted of embezzling cultural assets. Chief curator Mirfayz Usmonov has been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, while his subordinates have been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.
The gang sold museum art works to ‘unidentified clients’ and used forgeries to cover their tracks. It is not stated whether the clients were dealers or collectors, or whether the team produced the forgeries or employed forgers. Even if it was “predictive” theft-to-order (theft to supply dealers who have a select clientele), rather than direct theft-to-order for collectors, they managed to find buyers. And they managed to hide their operation for fifteen years (between 1999 and 2014).
I think the AFP/Guardian title – “Uzbek museum sold off artworks over 15 years and replaced them with copies” – is wrong, because the museum didn’t do it. Like the embezzling gang within Uşak Museum in Turkey, an organised criminal operation plundered the museum from within.