Russian artist ‘holds $45million of art hostage to free Julian Assange’: Andrei Molodkin vows to dissolve Picasso and Rembrandt masterpieces in acid using ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ inside 29-tonne vault if WikiLeaks founder dies in jail

A Russian artist has vowed to use acid to destroy masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt and Andy Warhol if Julian Assange dies in prison.

Andrei Molodkin claims to have collected 16 works of art that he claims are worth a total of $45 million, and is now threatening to destroy them if his demands are not met.

The artworks, he claims, are stored in a 29-tonne vault with an ‘extremely corrosive’ substance, and will only be returned to their owners if Assange is released from prison.

The WikiLeaks founder is awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against extradition to the US, where he faces espionage charges and up to 175 years in prison.

The controversial artist supporting his release claims his vault will be locked on Friday, and its contents will be completely dissolved if a ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ timer is not reset daily.

The 24-hour countdown timer will only be reset, he says, if “someone close” to Assange confirms every day that he is still alive,

The artworks, he claims, are stored in a 29-tonne vault with an 'extremely corrosive' substance

The artworks, he claims, are stored in a 29-tonne vault with an ‘extremely corrosive’ substance

Andrei Molodkin claims to have collected 16 works of art he says are worth $45 million, and is now threatening to destroy them

Andrei Molodkin claims to have collected 16 works of art he says are worth $45 million, and is now threatening to destroy them

WikiLeaks founder Assange is awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against extradition to the US, where he faces espionage charges and up to 175 years in prison.

WikiLeaks founder Assange is awaiting the outcome of his final appeal against extradition to the US, where he faces espionage charges and up to 175 years in prison.

It comes amid concerns from Assange’s supporters that he is suffering from ill health, with his lawyer saying his ‘life is in danger’ if he is extradited.

“In our catastrophic time – when we have so many wars – destroying art is much more taboo than destroying a person’s life,” said Molodkin Sky News.

‘Since Julian Assange has been in prison… freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of information has started to be suppressed more and more. I have this feeling very strongly now.’

Molodkin previously made headlines after he “bloodied” copies of Prince Harry’s memoir Spare in protest at his revelation he had killed the fighters while serving in Afghanistan.

The sculptor is a former Soviet Army soldier, anti-war campaigner and Russian dissident, and now lives in the south of France.

He previously made a large portrait of Vladimir Putin using blood donated by Ukrainian soldiers, and says he cannot return to Russia as he fears he will be imprisoned by Putin’s regime for his work.

His latest stunt, he claims, was done with the help of artists and donors who gave him art in a show of support for Assange.

Inside the lockup, two white barrels are pictured next to crates containing the artwork

Inside the lockup, two white barrels are pictured next to crates containing the artwork

Assange's wife Stella supports the Dead Man's Switch project, which she called 'a work of art' (file image)

Assange’s wife Stella supports the Dead Man’s Switch project, which she called ‘a work of art’ (file image)

He declined to identify the exact works in the vault, but said it contained some of his own works as well as art by Picasso, Rembrandt, Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jannis Kounellis, Robert Rauschenberg, Sarah Lucas, and others.

A gallery owner in Milan claims to have supplied a Picasso piece for the safe and has signed a non-disclosure agreement to reveal which one.

Giampaolo Abbondio, who has known Molodkin for years, said he initially said there was “no way” he would offer the job, but was later convinced.

“It made me think that it was more relevant for the world to have one Assange than an extra Picasso, so I decided to accept,” he told Sky.

Molodkin is said to have kept the vault at his studio in southern France before moving it to a museum.

The sculptor is a former Soviet army soldier and Russian dissident, and now lives in the south of France

The sculptor is a former Soviet army soldier and Russian dissident, and now lives in the south of France

Afghan and Iraqi people donated blood for an artwork by Molodkin titled Royal blood.  The sculpture was projected onto St Paul's Cathedral in defiance of Prince Harry's role in the Afghan war

Afghan and Iraqi people donated blood for an artwork by Molodkin titled Royal blood. The image was projected onto St Paul’s Cathedral in defiance of Prince Harry’s role in the Afghan war

Molodkin previously made a large portrait of Vladimir Putin using blood donated by Ukrainian soldiers

Molodkin previously made a large portrait of Vladimir Putin using blood donated by Ukrainian soldiers

Inside the lockup, two white barrels are pictured next to crates containing the artwork.

One of the barrels, Molodkin claims, contains acid powder, while the other contains an accelerant that can cause a chemical reaction that will completely destroy the works.

Assange’s wife Stella supports the Dead Man’s Switch project, which she called “a work of art”.

“Julian’s political imprisonment is an act of real terrorism against democracy.

“The real targets here are not just Julian Assange, but the public’s right to know, and the future of holding power accountable.

“If democracy wins, the art will be preserved – so will Julian’s life.”

The WikiLeaks founder has been held in South East London’s HMP Belmarsh maximum security prison since April 2019 after he was forcibly removed from Ecuador’s embassy when his seven-year diplomatic asylum was revoked.

A public hearing will take place on February 20 and 21 and is seen as the last chance for Assange to avoid extradition.