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‘Antique smuggler’ booked by DRI: US Homeland Security starts investigation

The ASI, granted the DRI permission to launch prosecution against Nanda and a few of his associates allegedly involved in smuggling, under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

Written by Khushboo Narayan | Mumbai |
November 2, 2017 3:19:34 am
DRI, US Homeland Security, indian artifact, indian smuggler, vijay nanda The US Homeland Security has allegedly found incriminating documents.

The Department of Homeland Security, USA, has obtained warrants to look through the emails of Vijay Nanda, who was booked by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) earlier this year in connection with smuggling Indian artifacts and heritage furniture to foreign countries. The warrants were issued by the US agency in August, said sources. Nanda, an American businessman of Indian origin, was arrested by the DRI from his residence in Girgaum Chowpaty in south Mumbai on February 6 for alleged smuggling of at least 13 antiques and artefacts from India to the US, UK and Hong Kong.

Sources said, the US Homeland Security has allegedly found incriminating documents while combing through the emails of Nanda and written to the email service providers directing them to store those mails.

“The US agencies have begun investigation into the case after we flagged it. Our counterparts in Hong Kong have also identified a person who had business dealings with Nanda. The information has been sent to the US authorities for probe,” said a DRI official on condition of anonymity.

The DRI has alleged that Nanda is part of an international art smuggling syndicate that uses unscrupulous persons to steal sculptures from temples in south and eastern India. The sculptures are legitimised through forged Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) certificates and then smuggled out of India concealed inside “furniture/handicrafts/readymade garment consignments”. The probe agency has alleged that in the past, Nanda has shipped abroad around 13 consignments of artefacts using the modus operandi. The DRI has seized around 80 antiques and artefacts from Nanda and his associates from across the country.

The DRI has alleged that Nanda used to organise auctions and subsequent sales in the United States and Hong Kong for private collections and museums. Indian antiques and artifacts command great value in international markets and are highly sought after by art galleries and private collectors.

On Wednesday, the ASI, granted the DRI permission to launch prosecution against Nanda and a few of his associates allegedly involved in smuggling, under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

“We have already launched prosecution in the case under the Customs Act. Now, the sanction from the ASI will give us more teeth as we can now file prosecution under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act in the case,” said the official.

The agency has recovered at least six stone sculptures dating back to the 10th century AD – mostly stolen from temples in the southern and eastern part of India — from Nanda’s residence and godown in Byculla. The sculptures are of Varada Ganesha, Padmapani, Awalokateshwara, standing Vishnu and figurines of Naga and Nagini. Apart from this, the agency also found terracotta figurines from 1st century AD, bronze figurines of Mahishasura Mardini and Ganesha from the 17th and 18th centuries, respectively, from Nanda’s house. Nanda is currently out on bail. His passport has been impounded by the DRI.

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