Australia may have to return to India two more precious artefacts including the 12th-century statue of a Hindu goddess with fresh evidence emerging that they were bought from an illegal smuggling ring, a media report said today.
The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra said in a statement that it was possible that the two other sculptures would also be returned to India.
“The NGA has conducted thorough provenance research into these two sculptures and is working closely with Indian authorities on the next steps.
“The Crennan Report, which the NGA released in February, identifies these sculptures as having suspect and insufficient provenance and it is certainly possible they will be returned,” it said.
In 2014, then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had returned a Dancing Shiva from the NGA and a stone ‘Ardhanarishvara’ from the Art Gallery of New South Wales to India on his visit.
The Gallery has already returned a 5.6 million Australian dollars worth of statue bought from a smuggling network in 2008.
There was a mounting evidence that an 1,800-year-old limestone carving showing a scene from the life of Buddha, and a 12th-century statue of the Hindu goddess Pratyangira were also stolen, illicit antiquities trade expert Jason Felch said.
“Investigators here in the United States have had evidence for some time that those objects were supplied by illegal traders in India,” Felch was quoted as saying by ABC.
The possibilities emerge as Indian investigators believe two more artefacts were linked to the network, the report said.
Disgraced US-based Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who was jailed in India and is accused of running an international smuggling racket, sold the two sculptures to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra, the report said.
Felch said Kapoor had provided the museum with documents claiming the objects had been out of the country for some time, when in fact the statues had recently been smuggled out of India.
The gallery paid 800,000 dollars for the Buddha and nearly 340,000 dollars for the goddess Pratyangira in 2005, it said.
India has launched a crackdown on Kapoor’s suppliers in India and arrested trader Deena Dayalan. The Australian newspaper has reported authorities believed Dayalan sold Kapoor the two sculptures.
“Dayalan allegedly organised networks of thieves who would break into Indian temples and steal these objects. He would then arrange for their export to Manhattan, where they were packaged and readied for market by Kapoor and then sold onto museums,” Felch said.