Employee at Russia's Hermitage arrested for stealing exhibits

People watch a light show on the 250th anniversary of the State Hermitage Museum on December 6, 2014 in Saint Petersburg, Russia (AFP Photo/Olga Maltseva) (AFP/File)

Saint Petersburg (AFP) - An employee at Russia's Hermitage Museum was arrested for stealing books and documents, some centuries-old, from the institution's celebrated collection and then trying to sell them to antique dealers, officials said Monday.

The man, who worked in the library of the Saint Petersburg museum, was taken into custody Friday in connection with a probe launched after items were found missing during an inspection last month, Russia's secret service FSB said in a statement.

"Several engravings, lithographs, photographs and books dating from the 17th to 19th centuries" and belonging to the Hermitage library were found at the worker's home as well as with a friend of his and at a Saint Petersburg antique shop, FSB said.

The stolen items have since been restored to their place in the museum.

Housed in the vast Winter Palace, once home to Russia's tsars, the Hermitage houses a collection of over 600,000 artworks, including paintings by Matisse and Picasso.

The prestigious museum, which receives more than two million visitors a year, has already experienced large-scale theft.

In 2006, some 200 pieces of jewelry were pilfered with the help of a curator. Her husband was jailed for five years for the nearly four-million-euro ($4.5 million) theft.

In 2010, a three-year-long audit by the Russian Ministry of Culture concluded that nearly 250,000 museum pieces had either been lost or stolen from institutions across Russia.