Library director brought to book

October 13, 1995

Valerii Leonov, the director of the library of the Russian Academy of Science in St Petersburg, faces criminal charges for misappropriation of books under his care.

According to the St Petersburg public prosecutor's office, "thanks to Leonov" 54 valuable books dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries were improperly removed from the library and sent to Russian Bibliophile, a business in Paris. Some of them, it is alleged, were then passed on to the French Biblioth que Nationale.

The prosecutor's office claims that it has evidence of business dealings between Leonov and the director of Russian Bibliophile. Leonov maintains that the books were sent to Paris simply for valuation and expert appraisal. The academy librarians need to know the value of the books they hold, if only for insurance purposes.

However, says the prosecutor's office, even if Leonov did send the books abroad only for valuation, he did so without proper authorisation and some have gone missing.

But are they in the Biblioth que Nationale?

Former employees of the academy are alleged to have made the charge. However, Marie Avril, who works in the Biblioth que Nationale's Russian holdings, says that it does not buy books known to belong to another library. It was many years since the Biblioth que Nationale had acquired any 18th or early 19th century Russian works.

The Biblioth que Nationale was prepared to account to the police, she said, for the provenance and date of acquisition of all such works in its holdings. She added that Russian book circles in Paris are convinced that Leonov is the victim of rumours and false denunciations.

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