The complaint detailing the arrest of art dealer Nancy Wiener in New York points to distinct Indian idol smuggling networks operating in the country.
According to the U.S. court filing, three smugglers — Om Sharma, Sharod Singh and Vaman Ghiya dealt with Nancy Wiener’s mother, Doris. The three operators are described as “supplier of illegal antiquities”. Of these, Vaman Ghiya was acquitted by the Rajasthan High Court in 2014 on a charge of idol smuggling.
The “Doris Wiener Collection,” passed to Nancy, who was a co-executor, following the mother’s death in April 2011.
The complaint said Om Sharma was a supplier of illicit antiques from India with whom Doris exchanged emails about buying a stolen red sandstone figure dating back to the 12th Century C.E. It was 26 inches high, depicting a Jain Goddess, and was valued at $74,500.
Sale by Christie’s
Doris bought the statue in 2009, “wiring the money to Hong Kong, and smuggled the piece to her New York gallery,” the complaint said. The piece was sold by Christie’s in 2012 for $74,500.
Another piece she bought in 2002 came from Sharod Singh. It was a looted red sandstone relief, “Red Sandstone Couple”, dating back to the 1st-2nd century C.E, valued at $150,000, according to the U.S. authorities.
“According to the seized documents, the Defendant (Nancy) also consigned to Christie’s four other pieces from her mother’s collection that had come from the Singh network. In total, three of these were sold for $70,000,” it said.
Vaman Ghiya’s involvement dates back to August 1992, when Doris bought “a stolen mottled red sandstone relief depicting a Bacchanalian scene, dated to 2nd Century C.E, 25 and a half inch high, and valued at $180,000 from Ghiya in India”. Nancy managed to get five of six pieces from the Vaman Ghiya network disposed of through Christie’s in March 2012 for $478,750.
Vijay Kumar, the head of the India Pride Project, a group that tracks stolen artefacts, said “this complaint will create ripples across the world. Most of the museums have bought from Doris and Nancy. This will have an impact as the museums and collectors will now know that the Feds will come knocking at their doors anytime.”