US authorities recover looted idol from south Indian temple

New York: A museum in Indiana has surrendered to authorities a 1,000-year-old bronze idol looted from a temple in southern India and smuggled to the US by America-based disgraced Indian art dealer Subhash Kapoor.

The David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University transferred the bronze sculpture of Shiva and Parvati to the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The idol had been looted from a temple in southern India and brought to the US illegally. The bronze sculpture, from the Chola Period (860 -1279 CE) was sourced illegally from Tamil Nadu under Kapoor's direction and smuggled into the US. Around 2004, the stolen idol was delivered to Kapoor's former New York City gallery 'Art of the Past'.

Kapoor had displayed the Shiva and Parvati sculpture for sale and misrepresented the idol's true origin, the HSI said in a statement.

In 2005, representatives from Ball State University became unwitting victims as Kapoor provided the museum with a false provenance for their artifact.

HSI special agents have tracked many false provenances provided by Kapoor. So far, HSI special agents, in conjunction with the Manhattan prosecutor's office, have netted in excess of 2,500 artifacts worth more than USD 100 million.

The statute will be shipped to New York where it will serve as potential evidence in 'Operation Hidden Idols'. Ultimately it is anticipated the item will be forfeited and repatriated to India along with at least six other sacred Chola bronzes recovered by HSI.

"The theft, trafficking and/or destruction of cultural artifacts is one of the oldest and most sinister forms of transnational crime. To profit from the sale of someone else's ancient religious relic which is priceless to the people who worship it, is egregious and disrespectful to all faiths," said Glenn Sorge, acting special agent in charge for HSI New York.

Previously several other major collecting institutions cooperated fully with the US and Indian governments in the investigation of works sold by Kapoor.

Kapoor is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars' worth of rare antiquities from several nations.

The trails of looted artifacts have been traced all around the world. Within the past eight months, two domestic museums, the Honolulu Museum, the Peabody Essex, and one major collector have partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor.

Over the last three years, HSI special agents have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor's Manhattan gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer.

Additionally, three individuals have been arrested in the US for their role in the scheme.

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