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Australia Commits Shameful Art Blunder

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By Athena Yenko | February 14, 2014 2:49 PM EST

In July 2012, authorities from United States raided a warehouse owned by a business director. The authorities were able to seize tens of millions of dollars of stolen art which originated from India.

The stolen art pieces were being sold by Kapoor's Art of the Past. Hence, the office manager for Kapoor's, Aaron M Freedman, faced six counts of criminal possession of stolen property and had already pleaded guilty.

It was believed that a Chola-period Shiva statue was part of the loot, but that it had been sold by Kapoor prior to the authorities' search of the warehouse.

The statue, which had already lost its value, had been stolen from a temple in India and illegally imported to the U.S. by a large-scale smuggling syndicate.  It had been controversial ever since and can no longer be promoted or displayed as key work of art in the Gallery's Indian Collection.

Meanwhile, in 2008, The National Gallery of Australia, being neglectful of the fact that purchasing antique statues from India was risky, bought a statue called Shiva as Lord of the Dance. It bought the statue and 21 items more from art dealer Subhash Kapoor for $5 million.

At present, NGA had been after Kapoor over its purchase of the Indian statue. It aimed to be reimbursed of its $5 million, plus legal fees.

What a Shame

As for Criminologist Duncan Chappell, it was a shame that NGA obviously did not observe due diligence in obtaining the controversial artwork.

"The NGA has probably not been able to do due diligence in the way that one would expect of a major institution. The Gallery at the very least has been naive in the way it has handled this matter. They should have been suspicious in the first place. Red lights should have gone on simply because obtaining any antiquities from India is in itself always a highly hazardous position."

"The Indian Government has in fact said that after 1972, all items of antiquity are to be owned by the Indian Government and not to be exported and only with exhibition licences can they be shown overseas," Mr Chappel criticised.

What makes NGA more embarrassing was its attitude toward the stolen art. The NGA's first impulse should be to decide how to restore the stolen antique to the rightful owners.

"Instead it seems the Gallery is also putting up as its pre-eminent position at the moment that of recovering the money it's invested in this," he said.

This was considered naivety since in cases like that of Kapoor, reimbursement is impossible since law imposed that those accused of art theft should have their assets seized by authorities.

"The Gallery will recover virtually nothing and will also have to invest very substantial legal funds in pursuing this claim in the United States."

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