MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling on the theft of artefacts now being returned to India

Published by MAC on 2015-04-18

Some may well say "about time" in relation to the story below.

But what about the Koh-i-noor diamond stolen by Britain, which sits in the Queen Mother's crown? The British prime minister (though probably not for
much longer) David Cameron refused to return it to India when he visited the sub-continent in February 2013.

Not to mention other artefacts, purloined by so-called explorers from Greece, Africa and many other regions of the world?

And certainly not to include trillions of pounds worth of metals, snatched from the lands of Indigenous Peoples over centuries, the rent for which - as we were reminded by Canadian First Nation Innuat this week's Rio Tinto AGM - has never been paid?

The British Green party leader announced on 16th April, in a televised party leaders' debate,that the UK is the sixth richest country in the world.

To put it mildly, that's a misrepresentation. In fact, Britain's national debt recently lurched to well over a trillion pounds.

And that's just what's owed to official creditors overseas.

Let's add to that a conjectured value for the metals and materials, purloined by the world's longest-industrialised country from land-based peoples over the past two hundred and more years.

It would render Britain among the poorest of all nations on the planet.

Indian stole Indian artefacts and sold to the West

Mridula Chari

17 April 2015

On 15th April, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gifted Prime Minister Narendra Modi a 900-year-old statue stolen from Khajuraho, the New York District Attorney asked a court for the custody $100 million dollars worth of artefacts associated with tainted arts dealer Subhash Kapoor.
This is the largest seizure of antiquities in the history of the US - there are 2,622 artefacts in the Kapoor collection.

Kapoor is an American citizen of Indian origin who set up shop in Manhattan in 1976. His art gallery Art of the Past in the central museum district of the city, was well known for sourcing rare antiquities from South Asia.

In January 2014, the US returned three sandstone sculptures of Vishnu, Laxmi and Buddha to India, to signal improved diplomatic relations that had soured over the Devyani Khobragade episode.

In September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned a dancing Nataraja and an Ardhanarishwara statue, both stolen by Kapoor, as a gesture of goodwill. January brought the news of another ghar wapsi, this time of a 2,000-year-old Buddha statue smuggled by Kapoor that the National Gallery of Australia had for years denied any wrongdoing around. This came even as Australian parliament criticised the gallery for not scrutinising the statue's documentation at the time of purchase.

Canada's return, for now, might not be from the Kapoor collection. That statue, known as Parrot Lady, was discovered with a private dealer in Canada in 2011. Until July, it was not even certain if Canada would return the statue because authorities at Khajuraho had not reported its theft.

Largest heist

Despite that, the Kapoor heist is much more enormous than the authorities suspected when they first began to track him. When Interpol arrested him in 2011 at the Frankfurt airport, they were following the trail of two thefts in Tamil Nadu in 2005 and 2008.

In August 2012, authorities broke into a Manhattan storage unit where they discovered what they thought was $20 million dollars worth of sandstone and bronze statues. By December, they realised the 2,622 artefacts from his warehouses were worth $100 million dollars.

Art heist investigation website Chasing Aphrodite, which has been tracking and breaking the story since the beginning, points out, “For some perspective on that number, the FBI's art squad has seized a total of $150 million in art since its inception in 2004, according to its website.” 
This figure does not cover the 500 artefacts that 18 museums in the US have admitted to buying from him or the 234 other institutions across four continents.
Kapoor is now awaiting trial in Chennai. After that, the US is likely to ask for his deportation so that he can assist investigators there as they attempt to trace decades' worth of potentially stolen art. Australia has sued him for five million dollars.

India began to police art exports only in the 1970s. Items taken before that are not legally considered stolen. Art diplomacy can only go so far. Stolen art work has been an Indian grudge for decades, but these recent gifts are unlikely to persuade countries such as the United Kingdom, whose larger museums are built on objects of dodgy origin, to repatriate other more famous items such as the Kohinoor or Tipu Sultan's sword, taken from the country at a time when the definition of theft and possession was more fluid.

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