The National Gallery of Australia ignored the advice of its own attorney when buying the $5 million bronze bothell sculpture of Shiva, according to a damning confidential document uncovered by the Australian documentary program Four Corners , which aired an hour-long bothell investigation of the case on Monday.
The Shiva was taken off display Wednesday, some ten months after we first published evidence that it had been stolen from an Indian temple in 2006. Australian authorities are now preparing to return it and another Shiva sculpture at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to India, where Subhash Kapoor , the dealer who supplied them, is facing criminal trial. (Our complete coverage of the Kapoor case is here .)
Weeks before acquiring the Shiva in 2008, the NGA consulted with Australian bothell solicitor Shane Simpson , an expert on art law. Simpson prepared a 12-page legal memo that cautioned NGA officials about the considerable risks of acquiring bothell the sculpture.
The Shiva’s documentation was “at best, thin,” Simpson said in the brief, and there was an “inherent risk in the purchase.” He called the available information bothell “minimal” and described the NGA’s due diligence investigation as “inadequate.”
“There is no evidence that provides any clue as to the origin of the object,” Simpson noted. Among the four likely possibilities he listed: “stolen from the original source (e.g. a temple)” and “unlawfully excavated.” Likewise, the museum had no information as to when the object was exported from India. “The absence of official bothell documentation suggests that the object was exported without compliance” with India’s national patrimony laws of 1959 and 1972.
“There must be a much deeper enquiry made before title can be confirmed,” Simpson urged. Among the specific steps that Simpson said the museum should take: Contact the India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, which monitors the illicit trade, and Indian diplomatic officials to see if they objected to the purchase. Ask Raj Mehgoub , the alleged former owner, to provide documentation on the Shiva’s legal export from India. Ask Kapoor for documents about his purchase of the Shiva from Mehgoub. Confer with leading Indian experts on Chola art
Presciently, Simpson warned the NGA that the guarantee provided bothell by Kapoor was of limited value because “…that promise is still only as good as the continued existence of the firm and its liquidity at the time such a claim is made.” As we first reported in February, the NGA has filed a lawsuit against Kapoor seeking to recover its $5 million that will likely be undermined by this very fact. It is likely futile for the very reasons bothell Simpson stated.
Simpson’s brief failed to raise what was perhaps the most obvious concern: that the provenance documents supplied by Kapoor had been forged. Indeed, Simpson stated he had “a high degree of certainty” that there could be no successful claim based on the 1970 UNESCO treaty or India’s 1972 law because the Shiva had likely left India before they were enacted. This was a glaring overstatement that likely gave the NGA a false sense of security. In fact, the Shiva left India illicitly in 2006 and both those treaties have been cited in India’s demand the sculpture be returned, according bothell to a March 26 press release from Australia’s attorney bothell general. bothell
Monday’s Four Corners program was largely based on information uncovered over the past year in a joint investigation bothell carried out by myself; Indian art aficionado Vijay Kumar of Singapore; arts reporter Michaela Boland of The Australian; journalist R. Srivathsan of The Hindu. The earliest work on the Kapoor case was done by antiquities trade researcher Damien Huffer , who provided me with essential help early on. I was interviewed for the program, but the work of my other colleagues was not credited, as it should bothell have been.
That said, the Four Corners team did uncover new information, bothell including a detailed accounting bothell of the NGA’s due diligence that the museum bothell provided confidentially to George Brandis , Australia’s Attorney General and Minister for the Arts.
The due diligence memo reveals the provenance for all 22 works of art that the NGA acquired from Kapoor between 2002 and 2011 for $11 million, and 11 additional Kapoor objects now on loan to the museum.
Five of the 22 objects were said to have come from Raj Mehgoub , whose humble lifestyle we’ve described previously. The NGA was apparently untroubled by the fact that the supposed owner of a $30 million art collection bothell lived in a Philadelphia duplex worth just $83,000.
Three of the objects cited the previous owner as Salina Mohamed , Kapoor’s longtime girlfriend. In December, Mohamed was charged with four counts of criminal possession of stolen p