Stolen Ganesha in US to return soon

CHENNAI: The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, US, has said it will return the nearly 1,000-year-old bronze Ganesha idol, which it bought from art thief Subhash Kapoor, to the Indian government. The museum purchased the idol from Kapoor in 2006 for nearly $245,000. Kapoor, now facing trial in Tamil Nadu, likely stole it from a Shiva temple in Sripuranthan, Ariyalur, along with other idols such as the Nataraja that Australia returned recently.

The Ganesha will be the third stolen idol that Tamil Nadu is getting back in the Kapoor case. The bronze Nataraja and a stone Ardharanari were returned by Australia in September.

In March 18, TOI ["US museum ready to return stolen Ganesha"] reported that the museum authorities were in touch with the US Justice Department about the idol though the Indian government hadn't yet approached the museum. "The Indian government got in touch with us shortly after your [TOI] story appeared," said Kelly Fritz-Garrow, director of communications at TMA.

Fritz-Garrow said that after evaluating the evidence that the Indian authorities supplied, the museum's director Brian Kennedy recommended to the museum's Arts Committee that the idol should be returned and the committee accepted it late August. "It's now up to the Indian government to organize the transfer," said Fritz-Garrow.

Just as in the case of the Nataraja, the Ganesha is returning after an investigation across many countries by police, media and independent bloggers. In the middle of 2013, Singapore-based blogger Vijay Kumar Sundaresan matched the photograph of the Ganesha at Sripuranthan taken by the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) with that of the Ganesha at Toledo. Investigative journalist Jason Felch, then of the Los Angeles Times, contacted TMA in July of that year about the Ganesha. In December, 2013, Selina Mohamed, a Kapoor associate, was chargesheeted in a New York court for creating fake provenance certificates of several artefacts including that of the Ganesha.

TMA officials say that they wrote to the Consulate General of India in New York in July, 2013, after Felch's inquiry but received no response until the TOI report appeared in March, 2014.

The investigation is continuing in regards to many other items that TMA acquired from Kapoor.

M Kalyanaraman, TNN
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