Australian PM Tony Abbott Returns Stolen Statues to India

The Prime Minister seeks improved Australian-Indian relations ahead of uranium deal.

"Shiva as Lord of the Dance or Nataraja." Cica 11th century, Indian bronze statue.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will return two looted statues to India during an official visit to the country, the Guardian reports. The statues were allegedly sold to Australian galleries by an Indian dealer accused of smuggling crimes. Abbott will hand back the statues during his meeting with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where a deal to supply Australian uranium to India is expected to be signed. The uranium is to be used to fuel India’s nuclear power grid.

The stolen statues have been a sore spot in Australian-Indian relations. The Indian government say they were taken from its territory without permission by a trafficker of cultural artifacts. Subhash Kapoor, the antiques dealer who sold the sculptures, ­was arrested in 2011 and extradited to India, accused of organizing a $100 million smuggling ring, the Guardian reported.

The most valuable statue, a $5.6 million bronze “dancing Shiva” was sold by Kapoor to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in 2008. A $300,000 stone sculpture of the Hindu god Ardhanariswara, also linked to Kapoor, ended up in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. Both the Shiva Narajara, which dates back to the 11th or 12th century, and the Ardhanariswara were removed from display earlier this year amid allegations they were stolen from temples in southern India.

The pieces’ return will end an uncomfortable diplomatic battle. As late as last November, NGA’s lawyers suggested no “conclusive evidence” had emerged to demonstrate the statue was stolen or illegally exported. Kapoor, who is in prison in India, claimed the statue had been sold to him by the wife of a diplomat, according to the institution. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

But in December, Kapoor’s office manager, Aaron Freedman, pleaded guilty in the New York Supreme Court to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property. The Shiva Nataraja was among the items listed as being illegally exported from India.


The Ardhanariswara sculpture smuggled by Subhash Kapoor.
Photo via: The Telegraph

“This information represents a significant and concrete development in the available information regarding the Kapoor case,” the NGA statement said. The Indian authorities made a formal request for the statues to be returned last March, to which Australia immediately agreed.

Returning the objects “is testimony to Australia’s good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India,” Abbott’s office said.

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