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Updated: December 6, 2013 10:03 IST

Idol stolen from Tamil Nadu surfaces in Singapore

A. Srivathsan
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A photo of the 1,000-year-old bronze sculpture of Uma Parmeshvari stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and sold to the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, as posted on chasingaphrodite.com. Photo: chasingaphrodite.com.
A photo of the 1,000-year-old bronze sculpture of Uma Parmeshvari stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and sold to the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, as posted on chasingaphrodite.com. Photo: chasingaphrodite.com.

Antiquities dealer Kapoor sold it to museum for $650,000

A criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney in the Supreme Court of New York has put to rest doubts, if any, about the illicit trade of antiquities stolen from Tamil Nadu.

It confirms the hitherto reported cases and brings to light a new one.

The document filed in the court said Subhash Chandra Kapoor, U.S.-based antiquities dealer extradited to India and now lodged in a Chennai prison, sold stolen bronze sculptures not only to a museum in Australia but also in Singapore.

The complaint says Kapoor and Aaron Freedman, long-time manager of Kapoor’s gallery, have dealt in stolen antiquities for more than 15 years. It specifically accuses Freedman of arranging to ship stolen antiquities, including two idols of Nataraja and three idols of goddess Uma to and out of the U.S. Freedman also arranged for false provenance certificates for illicit property, contacted prospective buyers and laundered stolen antiquities.

Citing a spokesperson of the District Attorney’s office, Chasing Aphrodite, the blog site that tracks looted antiquities, has reported that Freedman has pleaded guilty to all criminal counts brought against him.

The Hindu had reported that Kapoor sold the 11th century bronze Nataraja idol, stolen from the Sripuranthan temple in Tamil Nadu, to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The criminal complaint filed in New York, made available to The Hindu by Jason Felch of The Los Angeles Times, with whom this correspondent has been collaborating on the case, has confirmed this.

The document states that sometime between November 2006 and January 2007, the Nataraja idol stolen from Tamil Nadu was shipped to the U.S. Later in October 2007, Freedman and his co-conspirators “arranged for sale and transport” of the sculpture to the National Galley of Australia, pricing it at US $5 million.

The new fact to emerge is that Kapoor and Freedman were also involved in the sale of another stolen idol to the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore. According to the complaint, a 1,000-year bronze idol of Uma Parmeshvari was stolen from a temple in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu and was illicitly transported to the U.S. In February 2007, Kapoor sold the sculpture to the ACM for US $650,000 and shipped it to Singapore.

No reply from museum

The Hindu, which has been following this case, wrote to the museum authorities in Singapore in July, enquiring about the provenance of the Uma Parameshvari sculpture. However, they did not reply. The Hindu contacted the museum again to get its response to the recent developments. Until this story went to print, the museum did not reply to the email that followed a telephone conversation.

In addition to these sculptures, the complaint said, Freedman was also involved in laundering another Nataraja idol and two more goddess idols that were together priced at $9.5 million. He was also in possession of a stolen Yakshi sculpture priced at $15 million.

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