The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has further strengthened its stance against allegations it acquired a looted 1,000-year-old Indian statue in a statement released by the legal adviser to the NGA, Shane Simpson AM of Simpsons Solicitors.
According to the statement, released on November 6, the NGA does not believe that there is any evidence to support allegations that the 11th-12th century bronze sculpture of “Shiva as Lord of the Dance [Shiva Nataraja]” in its collection was stolen or illegally exported from India.
“If, at the end of the legal process, the courts determine that this Shiva Nataraja was stolen and illegally exported, the Gallery will have been a victim of fraud ... In the meantime, the Gallery will continue to cooperate with the relevant authorities including the Indian High Commission,” the statement reads.
The controversial Shiva statue was acquired by the Gallery in 2008 from Indian-born American antiquities dealer Mr Subhash Kapoor through his gallery Art of the Past, New York. Following the arrest of Mr Kapoor in 2012 on charges of trading in stolen artifacts, the legal status of the sculpture purchased by the NGA came into question.
Shortly after the allegations against Mr Kapoor were made public in June 2012, the NGA released a statement detailing the extensive checking process that was undertaken prior to the purchase of the statue to ensure it was authentic and acquired legally.
According to the statement, “the Gallery exercised probity and due diligence in relation to this acquisition to ensure the sculpture was genuine, that it was out of India before the required dates and that to the best of our knowledge at the time, it was not believed nor alleged to have been stolen.”
Following the seizure of more than US$100 million worth of artifacts from properties owned by Mr Kapoor during raids conducted by the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) directorate in 2012, the HSI identified Mr Kapoor as “one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world today.”
Criminal proceedings against Art of the Past dealer Subhash Kapoor are ongoing.