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Fight Over Hindu God Statue Hits Fed Court

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Big Apple antiquities dealer lied to a Londoner about the provenance of a 9th-century statue that prosecutors discovered to have been looted from an Indian temple, a lawsuit claims.

London-based art dealer John Eskenazi Ltd. says he thought he found the perfect match for one of his clients in a black stone relief depicting a skeletal form of Bhairava, the Hindu god of annihilation whose name means "frightful" in Sanskrit.

The relief is believed to have originated in or near the state of Orissa in Eastern India.

"The Bhairava depicts a rare and esoteric subject, ordinarily not easily salable, but Eskenazi had a particular client in mind who likes skeleton figures and who could have been a potential purchaser upon resale," his lawyers wrote in a 20-page complaint.

Listed between $60,000 and $70,000, Eskenazi said he talked the Manhattan gallery Maitreya and its owner Nayer Homsi down to $55,000 by the time of the sale on March 18, 2013.

Given Homsi's prominence in the art world, Eskanzi says did not question the work's provenance.

"Eskenazi trusted Homsi's representation that the Bhairava came from a European collection because Homsi had previously worked for the Doris Weiner Gallery, a leading New York Asian-art dealer, and Homsi was generally known within the Asian-art trade," the complaint states.

Two years later, the Department of Homeland Security and New York County prosecutors found out that the statue was anything but a bargain, according to the complaint.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance filed a forfeiture action against Homsi and Maitreya, in a civil complaint that alleged criminal misconduct.

Weeks later, Eskenazi's lawyers allegedly sent a letter demanding his money back, plus legal fees and indemnity.

"To date, Maitreya and Homsi have not agreed to Eskenazi's demands," the complaint states.

Eskenazi demands $80,000 plus punitive damages against Maitreya, Homsi and the unknown consignor for six counts of breach of warranty, unjust enrichment, conspiracy, and fraud.

The dealer is represented by Michael McCullough of the firm Pearlstein & McCullough LLP.

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