Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered a treasure trove of ancient Indian antiques in Singapore allegedly procured from an art gallery run by notorious art smuggler Subhash Kapoor in the US.
Officials from the antiquity wing of the ASI, who visited Singapore last month following a communication from the city-state, have found 30 antique objects, including idols dating to the 10th century and paintings.
Of these, a majority were from south India and had been sold by Kapoor’s gallery ‘Art of the Past’ between 2007 and 2012 to Singapore, ASI sources said.
According to sources, ASI received a communication from Singapore-based Asian Civilisation Museum last year that said it was in possession of two antiquities — idol of a Hindu goddess and a Christ Altar — purchased from Art of the Past.
The letter also mentioned the museum had about 30 antiques procured from the notorious art dealer.
“When we examined the two antiquities, it was confirmed that it was goddess Uma Maheshwari idol from south India and Christ Altar belonging to a church in Goa. While the age of the idol is between 9th and 10th century, the Christ Altar dates back to 18th century,” an official, who was part of the team that travelled to Singapore between May 12 and 15, told PTI.
The authorities were able to establish that the bronze Uma Maheshwari idol had been smuggled from India, thanks to a complaint registered about its theft with Tamil Nadu police.
“Fortunately, we had evidence in case of the Uma Maheshwari idol due to a theft complaint in Tamil Nadu. However, though we could authenticate that the Christ Altar object was from Goa, there was no complaint of theft in this regard,” the official noted.
The sources said the Singapore museum authorities have agreed to return the Uma Maheshwari idol. The Singapore authorities also acceded to the ASI team’s request to be shown the remaining 28 objects.
“Apart of the two objects, majority of the remaining 28 objects were from south India. There were about six idols made of stone and two metal idols of Hindu gods, whose age can be traced to the 10th and 11th century. There were Tanjore paintings as well,” the official said.
The ASI has now written to the Indian High Commission in Singapore seeking its assistance to ascertain how these artefacts landed up with Art of the Past.
In the wake of Kapoor’s 2011 arrest in Germany, several international museums have voluntarily shared information with
India about antiquities they had procured from Art of the Past.
Several museums in the US have begun depositing with Homeland Security officials antiquities they had purchased from Kapoor, saying they were not aware that the items had been smuggled into the country.
In April this year, the Honolulu Museum of Art handed over seven antiquities to personnel from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) following an investigation during which it emerged that the objects had been stolen from temples and ancient Buddhist sites in India and brought to the US illegally.
The Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts is also returning a 19th Century Tanjore portrait it purchased in 2006 from Kapoor.
Kapoor was the subject of an Interpol red corner notice and was arrested in 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport. He was subsequently extradited and is standing trial in Chennai for running a multi-million dollar international smuggling racket in art pieces.