The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) arrested Vijay Nanda, an American businessman of Indian origin, from his residence in Girgaum Chowpaty in South Mumbai Monday in connection with smuggling of antiques and artefacts to the US, Europe and Hong Kong, said DRI officials probing the case. The agency searched the residence of Nanda and his godowns in Byculla and recovered at least six stone sculptures of tenth century AD — mostly stolen from temples in the southern and eastern part of India. The six sculptures include —Varada Ganesha, Padmapani, Awalokateshwara, standing Vishnu and figurines of Naga and Nagini. Apart from this, the agency also found terracotta figurines from the first century AD, bronze figurines of Mahishasura Mardhini and Ganesha from the 17th and 18th Century respectively from Nanda’s house.
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“These coordinated searches resulted in the recovery of several antiques and artefacts for which Vijay Nanda had no legal documentation or registration with the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) as an antique dealer,” said a DRI official.
“It appears that Vijay Nanda had arrived in India a few days earlier to make arrangements to smuggle the statues stored in the crates,” the official added.
According to the agency, Nanda is allegedly part of an international art smuggling syndicate that uses unscrupulous persons to steal sculptures from temples in southern and eastern India. These sculptures are then legitimised through forged ASI certificates and then smuggled out of India, concealed inside “furniture/handicrafts/readymade garment consignments”.
The DRI sources said Nanda used to arrange auctions and subsequent sale in the US and Hong Kong to private collections and museums. Indian antiques and artefacts command great value in international markets and are highly sought after by art galleries and private collectors.
“Gupta era gold coins, post Mauryan terracotta figurines, Rajputana swords and daggers, Chola bronzes and Tibetan Buddhist statues are among the antiques that have been smuggled by this syndicate in the past and Vijay Nanda is a prime player in the international art smuggling syndicate with extensive connections in US, Europe, and Hong Kong,” said the DRI official.
The DRI has detained several other antiques recovered from Nanda’s home for verification of the documents as it suspects it may have been stolen from museums or vandalised from temples. Earlier, the agency had arrested Nanda’s business associate Udit Jain in Chennai in connection with smuggling of antiques and ancient paintings as a part of the Deendayalan syndicate.
Nanda has been remanded in judicial custody till February 20.