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Australia set to return ancient statues to India

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The 11th century Nataraja sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia.
The 11th century Nataraja sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia.

Australia is preparing to return two centuries-old statues to India, officials said on Thursday, following allegations they were stolen from ancient sites and sold as part of an audacious art fraud.

The National Gallery of Australia's bronze sculpture of a dancing Shiva, purchased in 2008 from New York art and antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, was pulled from display in Canberra on Monday.

A lesser work also linked to Kapoor, the Ardhanariswara idol held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, has also been removed, the Attorney-General's Department said in a statement.

India requested the works' return on Friday and Australia, as a signatory to a UNESCO convention on the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, will implement its obligations under its Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act, it said.

The request from India follows a decision by the National Gallery of Australia to sue Kapoor, his firm Art of the Past, and former manager Aaron Freedman in New York's Supreme Court over the purchase.

The NGA has claimed that Kapoor and his company "fraudulently induced" the Canberra-based gallery to buy the statue for US$5 million through forged certifications about its provenance and history.

Kapoor, who is in prison in India where he also faces charges, claimed the statue had been sold to him by the wife of a diplomat, the gallery said. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.


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