NGA threw caution to the winds in buying idol: Australian Minister

Sculpture expert Nagaswamy denies Gallery consulted him on purchase

Updated - May 19, 2016 11:40 am IST

Published - March 24, 2014 10:32 pm IST

The sculpture acquired by the National Gallery of Australia from Subhash Kapoor in 2008.

The sculpture acquired by the National Gallery of Australia from Subhash Kapoor in 2008.

India’s case for getting back the stolen Nataraja idol strengthened further when Australian Minister for Arts George Brandis criticised the national art museum of the country for its slack practices in purchasing the 1000-year-old sculpture, allegedly stolen from Tamil Nadu.

Mr. Brandis, who is also the Attorney-General, told Four Corners, the current affairs programme of Australia Broadcasting Corporation, that the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) did not “sufficiently comply” with due diligence standards while purchasing the idol. “When there was a sufficient level of doubt about the provenance of the object,” the gallery’s decision to recommend the purchase “was incautious.”

Mr. Brandis said he had raised with the Foreign Affairs Minister the issue of return of the idol.

The NGA has been claiming that it followed proper procedures before purchasing the idol from Subhash Kapoor, U.S.-based antiquities dealer now lodged in a Chennai prison for his alleged role in the theft.

The ABC programme has unearthed more evidence that further dismantles the NGA’s claims.

In his interview to Four Corners, Allan Myers, Chairman of the NGA’s council, said the gallery had consulted R. Nagaswamy, renowned expert on South Indian sculptures based in Chennai and, on his advice, bought the idol. But in June 2013, when The Hindu emailed the NGA asking whether it had consulted Dr. Nagaswamy, the gallery refused to answer the question.

When The Hindu contacted Mr. Nagaswamy, he said he did not recall any phone conversation with the NGA, and denied advising it to acquire the idol. He said he never opened or responded to any email sent by the NGA in 2008 as he was not in Chennai then. He never heard anything from it subsequently, nor did he receive any consultation fee. Mr. Nagaswamy conveyed the same message to Four Corners.

The ABC programme also accessed documents that show, Shane Simpson, heritage lawyer with Simpsons Solicitors, Australia, in 2008, cautioning the NGA against the proposed purchase of Nataraja idol. In his written note, he mentioned that “the available evidence is minimal and inadequate investigations have been carried out.”

Mr. Simpson warned that the NGA must be aware, “there is an inherent risk in the purchase” and “there is no evidence that provides any clue as to the origin of the object.” He even mentioned a possibility that “it was stolen from the original source [for example, a temple].”

However, the NGA overlooked the lawyer’s note and bought the idol from Mr. Kapoor for $ 5 million.

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