Subhash Kapoor, a U.S.-based antiquities dealer who is alleged to have masterminded the theft of idols from temples in Tamil Nadu, has got himself into more legal tangle.
The National Gallery of Australia (NGA), which bought a 1,000-year-old bronze Nataraja for US $5 million from Kapoor, filed a lawsuit against him in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on February 5.
The NGA has claimed damages from Kapoor, accusing him of “fraudulently inducing” the NGA to buy the idol by “making misrepresentations and false assurances” about its ownership.
In 2006, Kapoor approached the NGA and offered the idol as a “potential acquisition.” As the lawsuit describes, Kapoor told the NGA that a Sudanese diplomat, based in Delhi between 1968 and 1971, bought the idol from a fine art shop in Red Fort Arcade. The diplomat later took the idol along with him when he left Delhi. After his death, his wife sold it to Art of Past Gallery, owned by Kapoor, in 2004. It is alleged that this idol was stolen from the Sripuranthan temple in Tamil Nadu.
The same diplomat, according to provenance documents provided by Kapoor in another instance, had also bought an idol of Siva from a different shop in Delhi. Kapoor sold this idol to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
In the case of the Nataraja idol, Kapoor provided documents to support ownership. He also gave a letter of warrantee, claiming that his gallery was the sole owner of the idol and knew of “no adverse claim or notice relevant to the ownership of the item.”
The NGA said it did due diligence to ensure that the idol was not a stolen one. Since it did not find anything amiss, it went ahead with the purchase. In 2008, the NGA paid US $5 million in two instalments and acquired the idol from Kapoor.
Since Kapoor’s arrest in 2011, new evidences have emerged. In December 2013, in a criminal complaint filed in the Supreme Court of New York, the Manhattan District Attorney said Kapoor and Aaron Freedman, long-time manager of Kapoor’s gallery, “arranged for sale and transport” of the Nataraja idol to the NGA, using false documents. Aron Freedman has pleaded guilty. The NGA has now claimed damages for fraud and breach of contract. It has asked for “an amount not less than 5 million,” with interest, legal fees and other expenses from Kapoor, who is lodged in the Chennai prison and awaits trial.