The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has launched prosecution proceedings against alleged antique smuggler Vijay Nanda, his associate Udit Jain and seven others in connection with smuggling of Indian antiques, artefacts and heritage furniture to the US, Europe and Hong Kong, according to official sources.
Nanda, an American businessman of Indian origin, was arrested by the DRI last year, from his residence in Girgaum Chowpatty in south Mumbai for alleged smuggling of at least 13 antiques and artefacts from India to the US, UK and Hong Kong. The DRI’s prosecution proceedings follows a July 25 adjudication order passed by the Customs that has upheld the findings of the DRI in the case.
The adjudicating authority has imposed a penalty of Rs 16.18 crore on Nanda under Customs norms and ordered “absolute confiscation” of 47 antiques worth Rs 3.95 crore recovered from his home and warehouses under the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972. The adjudicating authority has also ordered confiscation of six antique paintings worth Rs 87 lakh recovered from the premises of city-based businessman Mohammad Rafiq Hakim.
“….it was found that Vijay Nanda was involved in smuggling of antiquities through proxy exporters by mis-declaring or concealing the antiquities and other corroborative evidence also prove that the intention of Vijay Nanda were proved beyond doubt that the goods are meant for export/smuggle out of India…” said the order passed by the adjudicating authority of Customs Sachin Gusia.
The adjudicating authority has also imposed penalties on the owners of firms that helped Nanda smuggle artefacts and antique furniture abroad. This includes Pushpendra Kumar of Sunrise Overseas Inc, Delhi-based businessman Devesh Goel of Devesh Handicrafts. Sunrise Overseas Inc, the order said, mis-declared and exported at least three consignments of antiquities worth Rs 55 lakh, while Devesh Handicrafts mis-declared and exported at least six consignments of antique wooden furniture to USA worth over Rs 2 crore.
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. These sculptures are then legitimized through forged ASI certificates and then smuggled out of India concealed inside “furniture/handicraft/readymade garment consignments”. The DRI has seized about 80 antiques and artefacts from Nanda and his associates across the country.
The DRI has alleged that Nanda used to arrange auctions and subsequent sale in the US and Hong Kong to private collectors and museums. Last year, the agency recovered at least six stone sculptures dating back to 10th century AD — mostly stolen from temples in the southern and eastern part of India — from Nanda’s residence and godown in Byculla in Mumbai.
The six sculptures included Varada Ganesha, Padmapani, Awalokateshwara, standing Vishnu and figurines of Naga and Nagini. The agency had seized terracotta figurines from first century AD, bronze figurines of Mahishasura Mardhini and Ganesha from the 17th and 18th century, respectively, from Nanda’s house.