The V&A could violate Government sanctions if they hand back a prized Fabergé egg to organizations closely tied to a Russian oligarch, an expert has warned.
The gallery is currently in possession of a Fabergé Egg – a bejeweled egg shaped object – which was acquired by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Mr Vekselberg then passed ownership to a Panamanian company, according the Art Newspaper.
It was loaned to the V&A for an exhibition ending March 8 by Link of Times Foundation, which operates the Fabergé Museum in St Petersberg. Mr Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned over Russia’s war in Ukraine, reportedly runs the Museum and launched the Foundation.
Tom Keatinge, Director of the Center for Financial Crime & Security Studies at Defense and Security thinktank RUSI, said that the V&A could risk violating the terms of Government sanctions if the egg is a financial asset of Mr Vekselberg.
“If you break it down, whether its an egg or a yacht or a house, it can be an asset of a sanctioned person. Be it a port, estate agent or museum, they all have the same obligations, ”he said i.
“When people think about sanctions normally, they think about bank accounts being frozen, and other financial things. Everyone is very focused on yachts, but plenty of people in other industries probably don’t realize that those sanctions apply to them as much as Barclays. ”
Mr Keatinge said it was “unusual” for oligarchs to hold valuable assets directly in their names, so the egg’s “ownership by a Panamanian company is not surprising.”
The question is who is “the beneficiary” of the egg; in essence, if the egg is making money for Mr Vekselberg.
“Personally what I would do if I was the V&A is say, until we can clarify the transparent owner of the egg, we won’t give it back,” he said.
Mr Keatinge said the egg’s ownership status “underlines the complexities” of sanctions, and highlighted the importance of sharing information with the private sector regarding sanctions. Banks may be well-versed in dealing with sanctioned funds; art galleries may not be.
Asked how long the V&A might need to keep the egg for, as its status is reviewed, Mr Keatingue said: “Liz Truss says that the sanctions will remain in place until the last Russian tank has left Ukraine. So some could find themselves sanctioned forever. ”
“The oligarch could say, well, I’m going to loan it on a permanent loan to the V&A to show my generosity. It’s impossible to make a million pound donation because their assets are frozen, but may be possible if the V&A already has that object. But is it appropriate for the V&A to make money out of the egg while its on display? It gets murky quite quickly. ”
The egg is made of solid gold and enamel, and stands just over two inches tall. It’s two halves can be opened to reveal a golden yolk. Inside the golden yolk is a golden egg with ruby eyes.
Should the V&A decide to risk returning the egg to the Fabergé museum, it may run into further obstacles with transportation, as there are no direct flights from the UK to Russia.
A spokesperson for the V&A would not share information on what it planned to do with the object, but confirmed it was attempting to “ensure [its] safe return ”.
“The object is on loan from the Faberge Museum / Link of Times Foundation and the loan agreement was made directly between two cultural organizations – the V&A and Link of Times Foundation.
“For security reasons we are not able to provide details of arrangements for individual loans. Now the exhibition has closed we are working with DCMS and the lenders to ensure the safe return of the objects, as required under the terms of the loan agreements. ”
The Department for Culture Media and Sport did not respond to a request for comment.