The Finnish customs authorities have seized three shipments containing works of art being transported back to Russia from exhibitions in Italy and Japan, because they were suspected of being subject to European Union sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, the Finnish customs service said on Wednesday.
The shipments, containing paintings and sculptures, were stopped at Vaalimaa, a border crossing between Finland and Russia, on Friday and Saturday, according to a news release on the website of the Finnish customs service, Tulli.
A spokesman 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 works of art were being 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 service showed the shipments in large wooden containers.
Sami Rakshit, the director of the Finnish customs’ enforcement department, gave some details about the seizure at a news conference on Wednesday. According to Reuters, he told reporters that the works had included antiquities and that they had been temporarily on loan from Russian museums and art galleries.
The Russian news agency Tass reported that the artwork shown in Italy had been featured in two exhibitions: one, at the Piazza Scala Gallery in Milan, with pieces from the State Hermitage and the Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk and Gatchina museum reserves; and another at the Museum of Modern Art in Udine, with works from the State Tretyakov Gallery and the State Museum of the East.
The customs service said that Finland’s Foreign Ministry had confirmed that the European Union’s sanctions list “contains a paragraph on works of art” and that the ministry had started a preliminary investigation into whether the works stopped at Vaalimaa contravened E.U. sanctions.
The Finnish authorities said they would also consult with 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 services’ website said. “Finnish Customs aims to complete the investigation as soon as possible.”
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.