Idol in S'pore museum linked to US 'stolen antiquities' case

SINGAPORE - A 1,000-year-old bronze idol of Hindu goddess Uma Parameshvari that is owned by the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore is the subject of a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney in New York.

The document stated that United States-based antiquities dealer Subhash Chandra Kapoor and his gallery manager Aaron Freedman were involved in the sale of the statue, which was stolen from a temple in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu, The Hindu newspaper reported.

The sculpture was illicitly transported to the United States, and in February 2007 was sold by Kapoor to the ACM for US$650,000 and shipped to Singapore.

Last Friday, Freedman, 41, pleaded guilty over his role in the international scheme to smuggle ancient sculptures worth US$35 million (S$44 million), the Associated Press (AP) reported.

He faced the Supreme Court in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy and criminal possession of stolen property, and admitted to assisting with shipments of stolen antiquities from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Cambodia.

In a statement on Saturday, the ACM confirmed that it acquired the Uma Parameshvari sculpture from Kapoor's gallery Art of the Past in Manhattan where Freedman worked, but denied any wrongdoing.

It said its acquisition of the Uma Parameshvari sculpture was done according to "strict procedures governed by National Heritage Board policy and international standards of ethical collecting".

"The provenance and sources of all items are checked against international databases of stolen and looted objects before purchases are made," the statement said.

The museum added that it was watching developments of the case and will take necessary action in accordance with international laws and practice.

Meanwhile, gallery owner Kapoor, 64, is in Indian custody for arranging the theft of statues from significant cultural and religious sites and also faces stolen property charges in New York, AP reported.

"Kapoor is by far the biggest smuggler, in terms of number of antiquities stolen and their market value, that we have seen," said Mr James Hayes Jr, special agent in charge for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

As part of the conspiracy, Freedman allegedly assisted with the sale of stolen artwork to galleries and museums across the world, AP reported.

Officials claim he helped to sell a US$5 million stolen statue of Shiva Nataraja now on display at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The gallery says it will work with the authorities.

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