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Australia to hand back ancient statues to India

By Agencies in Sydney | China Daily | Updated: 2014-03-28 06:57

Delhi asks for works' return after gallery suspects art dealer of fraud

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

In an e-mail to Reuters, the Indian Attorney General's Department said the Indian government asked the Australian government for the return of both statues, saying they were "exported from India in contravention of cultural property laws".

The National Gallery of Australia's bronze sculpture of a dancing Shiva, for which it paid around $5 million in 2008 from New York art and antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, was pulled from display in Canberra on Monday.

"The gallery is cooperating and working closely with relevant authorities on possible outcomes," it said on its website. "The process for returning foreign cultural objects is handled on a government-to-government basis."

The second statue, an Ardhanariswara idol made of granulite, which represents Shiva in half-female form, was bought by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for an undisclosed sum in 2004.

Both statues date back to India's Chola period and originated from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the gallery websites show. The Chola period lasted roughly from the 9th century until the 13th century.

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 Indian government's request is being actioned in accordance with that act," the statement 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 $5 million through forged certifications about its provenance and history.

Kapoor, who is in prison in India where he also faces charges of running an antiquities looting enterprise worth more than $100 million, 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.

In a statement published on its website this week, the NGA said it researched the work for a year before acquiring it and followed measures consistent with international best practice for museums.

AFP - Reuters

(China Daily 03/28/2014 page10)

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