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US recovers stolen TN idol worth $1 million

By Yoshita Singh
July 02, 2015 08:44 IST
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A bronze religious statue from the 11-12th century, stolen from a temple in India and worth $1 million (Rs 6.35 crore), has been recovered by US customs officials as part of a three-year investigation into former New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor.

An anonymous collector of Asian antiquities voluntarily surrendered the stolen Chola bronze statue representing Saint Manikkavichavakar to authorities, according to special agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ cultural property unit.

The two-and-a-half-foot idol had been looted from the Sivan Temple in Tamil Nadu’s Sripuranthan village.

Customs agents say the collector is a victim as he had bought it in 2006 and was given false provenance papers.

Federal authorities formally took custody of the stolen idol on Wednesday and estimated that the relic could sell for as much as $1 million if legitimately offered in market.

Besides, HSI has also recovered at least six other sacred Chola bronzes that it anticipates forfeiting and repatriating to the Indian government.

“The theft of another country’s cultural property is a terrible crime that robs a nation of its national heritage. This is especially true when the relics are religious idols as in this case. We commend this collector for his conscious decision to return this stolen idol,” special agent in charge of HSI New York Raymond Parmer said.

HSI had launched a massive ‘Operation Hidden Idol’ to investigate Kapoor’s activities who is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting rare antiquities from several nations worth tens of millions of dollars. The recovery is part of the three-year investigation.

In the past three months, the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex have surrendered illicit cultural property originating from Kapoor. HSI have tracked multiple false provenances provided by Kapoor, who had owned the ‘Art of the Past’ gallery in the city.

So far, federal authorities have netted in excess of 2,500 artefacts worth over $100 million.

India’s Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay said the Indian law enforcement agencies will continue to partner with HSI to more actively pursue individuals and syndicates involved in these transnational crimes.

Over the last three years, HSI have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor’s Manhattan gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer. Additionally, three individuals have been arrested in the US for their role in the scheme.

Since 2007, more than 7,200 artefacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artefacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Image: Federal authorities formally took custody of the stolen idol on Wednesday and estimated that the relic could sell for as much as $1 million if legitimately offered in market.

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Yoshita Singh
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