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Indian-origin US citizen held for smuggling of antiques

MUMBAI: Directorate of Revenue Intelligence on Tuesday arrested an Indian-origin US citizen here after searches at his house and a godown led to discovery of several antique pieces valued at crores of rupees in the international market.

“It’s invaluable … This is a loot of our cultural heritage,” said additional director general, DRI, Ajit Kumar.

Vijay Nanda, the accused, did not have any legal documentation which would allow him to possess or deal in antiques, DRI officials said.

“The search of his house resulted in discovery of several figurines and stone sculptures. These include terracotta figurines from 1st century AD, bronze figurines of Mahishasur Mardini and Ganesh dating back to 17th and 18th century,” said a DRI official.

The officials searched Nanda’s house in Girgaum in south Mumbai and his godown in Byculla in central Mumbai.

Large stone statues of ‘Varada Ganesha’, ‘Padmapani’, ‘Awalokateshwara’, ‘Standing Vishnu’ and figurines of ‘Naga and Nagini’ were found packed in crates at the godown.

They seemed to be stolen from various temples in Eastern and Southern India and belong to the 10th-11th century, DRI officials said.

The officials were also scrutinising the documents regarding several other antique pieces found at Nanda’s house, suspecting that they too were stolen from museums or were looted from ancient temple sites.

Nanda apparently arrived in India a few days ago to make arrangements to smuggle the statues stored in the crates. His business associate Udit Jain has been arrested by DRI in Chennai for smuggling of antiques.

Jain was part of ‘Deendayalan smuggling syndicate’, according to officials.

To legitimise the stolen antiques, ASI certificates were either forged, or certificates were obtained by providing false information and documents. The antiques were smuggled out of India concealed in consignments of furniture, handicraft or garments, DRI officials said.

Nanda arranged auctions and sale of antiques in the United States and Hong Kong to private collectors and museums, officials added.

“Gupta-era gold coins, post-Mauryan terracotta figurines, Rajputana swords and daggers, Chola bronzes and Tibetan Buddhist statues are among the antiques that have been smuggled by this syndicate in the past, and Nanda is a prime player in the international art smuggling syndicate with extensive connections in the US, Europe and Hong Kong,” said an official.

A local court remanded Nanda in judicial custody till February 20 following his arrest.

In the recent past, art smuggler Subhash Kapoor, also based in the United States, was extradited to India based on information provided by the DRI.

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