A gallery owner in New York surrendered a bronze Chola statue from India to customs officials in New York. The collector had been given false provenance papers from a man who allegedly stole the item. Photo courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
NEW YORK, July 1 (UPI) -- An Asian antiquities collector voluntarily surrendered a religious statue from India with an estimated value of $1 million, customs officials in New York said Wednesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the collector, whose name was not released, was likely unaware the bronze statue was stolen because he had been provided with false provenance documents when it was purchased in 2006.
The Chola statue depicting Saint Manikkavichavakar dates back to the 11th or 12th century and had been looted from the Sivan Temple in Sripuranthan Village in Ariyalur District, Tamil Nadu, ICE's Homeland Security Investigation's (HSI) cultural property unit determined.
Should the figure go to auction today, it could fetch up to $1 million.
The statue was one of a number of artifacts found to have false provenances allegedly provided by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery. HSI investigators have recovered a number of items traced back to Kapoor as part of a probe called Operation Hidden Idol.
"The theft of another country's cultural property is a terrible crime that robs a nation of its national heritage. This is especially true when the relics are religious idols as in this case. We commend this collector for his conscious decision to return this stolen idol," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "The climate around cultural property over the past few years has changed and we hope that other collectors, institutions and museums will continue to partner with HSI, and to see this surrender as a successful way to move forward when dealing with artifacts that might be of concern."
Officials said they have also taken possession of six other Chola bronzes that are set to be returned to the government of India.
"I look forward to a lasting partnership between HSI and the government of India's law enforcement agencies to more actively pursue individuals and syndicates involved in these transnational crimes," said Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay, ambassador consul general of India in New York.
Kapoor is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars worth of artifacts from a number of different countries. Two of those items were found to be housed at two U.S. museums, the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex, both of which surrendered the items.
The estimated value of the items seized in the Operation Hidden Idol case is more than $100 million.