MANHATTAN (CN) - A New York antiquities gallery charged $5 million for a stolen statue of a Hindu god obtained from a smuggling ring that looted ancient Indian temples, the National Gallery of Australia claims in court.
The Australian gallery sued Manhattan-based Art of the Past, its director Subhash Kapoor and manager Aaron Freedman in New York County Supreme Court.
The lawsuit centers around the sale and purchase of "Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)," a bronze statue originating from the Tamil Nadu region in southern India and dating to the end of the Chola dynasty of the 11th and 12th centuries.
The National Gallery claims that Art of the Past forged a letter of provenance certifying that the piece came from the widow of an Indian diplomat.
The National Gallery claims that it checked with the Art Loss Register, visited the Tamil Nadu Police website and consulted with a Chola bronze expert before completing the sale on Feb. 15, 2008.
But the Shiva statue now has "at best, a clouded title" in the wake of criminal investigations into Art of the Past's owners, the complaint states.
In 2011, German authorities detained Kapoor and extradited him to India on charges of running a smuggling ring targeting ancient statues in Tamil Nabu, the gallery claims in the lawsuit.
"In or about July 2012, U.S. federal agents are reported to have raided a Manhattan storage unit held by Kapoor and to have seized tens of millions of dollars of what federal authorities announced were stolen Indian artifacts, including several Chola period statues," the complaint states.
On Oct. 11, 2013, the New York Times reported that Kapoor was in jail in India.
Freedman pleaded guilty to a related conspiracy count and five counts of criminal possession of stolen property on Dec. 4, 2013, according to U.S. Customs and courts.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that Freedman agreed to cooperate with a Homeland Security investigation of Kapoor as part of his guilty plea.
The Shiva statue now has "diminished or no financial and other value," the complaint states.
"Based on the information obtained through the U.S. federal investigation and continuing investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, the Shiva has lost its financial value, and its clouded title and notoriety means that the work cannot be promoted as a key work of art in the gallery's Indian collection, nor under current circumstance be lent or toured to other museums and galleries," the complaint states.
The gallery demands at least $5 million for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, contractual indemnity and fraud.
It is represented by Cassandra Porsch of Andrews Kurth LLP.
Art of the Past did not respond to an email request for comment.
Shiva is one of the chief trinity of Hindu gods. The others are Brahma and Vishnu.
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