Australia's prestigious National Gallery has removed the USD 5-million statue of Shiva Nataraja it had bought from a tainted Indian-origin antique dealer after a top minister lashed out at it for failing to check the idol's ownership.
The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra is continuing its cooperation with the Attorney-General's Department to fulfil Australia's international commitments and has voluntarily removed the statue from display, an official statement said today.
The gallery had in 2008 procured the statue from Subash Kapoor, who is currently facing trial in India for allegedly running an international smuggling racket. "On Friday, 21 March, the Attorney-General's Department received a request from the Government of India under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 (PMCH Act) for the return of the Shiva Nataraja idol," the statement said.
The request states that the statue was exported from India in contravention of cultural property laws, namely India's Antiquity and Art Treasures Act 1972. "Our obligations are implemented through the PMCH Act and the Indian Government's request is being actioned in accordance with that Act," it said.
Earlier, the Attorney-General and Art Minister George Brandis lashed out the NGA for buying the USD 5-million idol without verifying its ownership."Plainly what that report revealed is that the due diligence standards of the NGA, which are very high - in fact are world's best practice - were not in my view sufficiently complied with on this particular occasion," Brandis had said.
However, the gallery's director Ron Radford and current chairman of NGA's council Allan Myers had endorsed the level of due diligence carried out by the gallery.