Australia to return ‘stolen’ precious artefacts to India

Australia’s National Gallery said on Thursday that it will return 14 artworks to India, at least six of which are believed to have been stolen or illegally exported. 

The artworks include sculptures, photographs and a scroll. The gallery has identified the works as either looted, stolen or of unknown origin.

The collection is composed largely of “religious and cultural artefacts” worth a total of about $2.2 million, including some dating back to the 12th century.

Gallery director Nick Mitzevich told AFP the works were set to be returned to the Indian government within months.

“It’s a relief that they can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,” he said.

Thirteen of the artworks are connected to alleged trafficker Subhash Kapoor, a former art dealer in Manhattan who was subject of a massive US federal investigation known as Operation Hidden Idol. Kapoor is awaiting trial and he denies all charges.

The National Gallery of Australia has already returned several other works it acquired via Kapoor, including a $5 million bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva that had been stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple.

Mitzevich said it had introduced guidelines to assess any legal and ethical issues with works it holds, and was investigating three other sculptures from its Asia collection.

“It’s very much a live issue with galleries around the world. And we want to make sure that we can resolve these issues in a timely manner,” he said.

Many of the antiquities Kapoor dealt in dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Chola dynasty presided over a flourishing of Hindu art in Tamil Nadu.

Since his arrest in 2011, the United States has also returned hundreds of artefacts.

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