A story of Russian corruption and antiques comes from the New York Times which marvels at the great business Aleksandr Kochinsky had in providing the perfect gift for Russia’s rich and powerful:
The current entanglement began with the purchase, in 2006 at a Sotheby’s auction in Paris, of 26 letters written by Voltaire to Catherine the Great, dating from 1768 to 1777. Mr. Khochinsky said he bought them for $869,000 — a world record for 18th-century handwritten texts, according to Sotheby’s — for a Russian billionaire who had made his money in banking and real estate. […]
Mr. Khochinsky’s client wanted to give the letters to Mr. Putin, who was then president, with the idea that he could then donate them to a Russian library. In this, the billionaire was following a more recent tradition of currying favor with the Kremlin by returning cultural and historic artifacts to Russia. In the most prominent instance, Viktor F. Vekselberg, an oil and aluminum magnate, returned the Forbes family collection of Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs to Russia in 2004, at a cost of $100 million.
Mr. Khochinsky said he saw special value in the letters as a gift to Mr. Putin. Voltaire, though critical of the 18th-century French monarchy, had famously praised Catherine the Great as an enlightened despot. […]
But now, Mr. Khochinsky says, the letters have vanished and he is out the $869,000 purchase price because the gift was not delivered. He says the letters disappeared sometime after he gave them to Russia’s Channel One, a state television outlet, to arrange a televised transfer of the documents to Mr. Putin.
Lifting the Lid on Russian Art of Lavish Gift Giving (New York Times)