India struggles to halt multimillion dollar trade in stolen artworks

04 Aug 2015 2:42 PM | Anonymous

India struggles to halt multimillion dollar trade in stolen artworks

New York-based art dealer due in court over sale of hundreds of items police claim were stolen from country’s temples Jason Burke in Chennai

Monday 3 August 2015 11.17 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 4 August 2015 12.01 EDT

The police officers had waited since mid-morning. Hidden among the bustle of an Indian market, they watched, handguns at the ready. Around them, women haggled for vegetables and hurried office workers bought cheap fried chicken. Shortly after noon, the officers saw their target: a motorised rickshaw, carrying a cargo rarely found in this ordinary neighbourhood in the southern city of Chennai.

Within minutes, a 38-year-old suspect was in custody and two 11th-century bronze idols worth several million dollars were safely stowed in an official lockup. The only police squad in India dedicated to fighting the longstanding problem of the theft of valuable idols from the country’s temples to sell on international markets had chalked up another successful operation.

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