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Austria extradites former Russian official accused of stealing millions of dollars from Saint Petersburg’s iconic Hermitage Museum

A former Russian official has been deported from Austria to Moscow after being accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the world-famous Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. He had asked Vienna for political asylum.

Boris Mazo, who used to work for the country's Ministry of Culture, is accused of acting in cahoots with the department's former deputy minister, Grigory Pirumov. In 2015, an investigation found that a group which included the two had stolen more than 916 million rubles ($12 million) of budget funds that had been allocated for construction at the Hermitage, a museum of art and culture located inside the Winter Palace, once the official residence of the Russian Tsars.

The alleged criminals are said to have laundered around 800 million ($10.5 million) of the stolen cash. Mazo is accused of large-scale fraud.

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"Thanks to the huge amount of work done and close cooperation with Austrian colleagues, we managed to reach a final decision on the extradition of Mazo to Russia. Today he will be taken to Moscow," the General Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

Russia put Mazo on an international wanted list in June 2018, knowing that he had fled to Vienna. In 2019, he was arrested in Austria and subsequently released on bail, but was forbidden from leaving the country. Earlier this year, a Viennese court decided to extradite the former official to Moscow.

As well as being wanted in Russia, extradition was also sought by Spain. Authorities in Madrid believe that the former culture ministry official may have laundered his cash by purchasing expensive real estate in Marbella on the Costa del Sol.

When in Vienna, Mazo had unsuccessfully applied for political asylum. Once the decision for extradition had been made, his lawyers filed a petition on the basis of his alleged poor state of health, asking for him to be released. This was rejected.

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