Investigative piece about possible archaeological loot in the possession of Asian Civilisations Museum

I am posting in full the article below which was uploaded elsewhere (click here). I have no comments on any of the information shared by that website. Just thought it would be interesting to alert readers that ACM is getting some international airplay. BTW, Dr Gauri Krishnan, who is mentioned in the article, is still an employee at National Heritage Board, Singapore; I wonder why she wasn’t contacted for comments?


Stolen artifact kept by SG museum for 15 years?

Following reports by TR Emeritus (TRE) that the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) had acquired stolen Indian artifacts, ACM issued a statement last year (8 Jan 2014) saying that it will take all necessary steps according to international laws and practice to return any stolen or looted objects particularly purchased from New York gallery Art of The Past (‘ACM: We will return stolen Indian artifacts‘).

In fact, ACM revealed that it had bought 30 artifacts from Art of The Past over the 14 years from 1997 to 2010. ACM explained that it believed, at the point of purchase, the artifacts were legally and ethically acquired from the gallery. It added that it “follows acquisition procedures strictly”, and all possible checks were made on the artifacts at the time of purchase.

On 6 December 2013, TRE broke the news that a 1,000-year idol stolen from India is now in the possession of ACM (‘1,000-year idol stolen from India now in SG museum‘). The 1,000-year-old Uma Parmeshvari bronze sculpture was stolen from a temple in the Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu in 2005 or 2006 before being smuggled to Art Of The Past, owned by disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor sold the idol to ACM for US$650,000 in February 2007.

According to, a blog dedicated to the hunt for looted antiquities in the world’s museums, Kapoor’s contact in Singapore is ACM’s senior curator Dr Gauri Krishnan. The blog is written and maintained by Jason Felch, an award-winning investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. He has written on topics such as arms trafficking, forensic DNA, disaster fraud, money laundering, public education and corruption in the art world.

Seated Buddha

Last week, Mr Felch published another article alleging that ACM may have bought another stolen Indian artifact – Buddha statue of the Kushan period dating back to 2 BC- through another New York dealer (‘The Kushan Buddhas: Nancy Wiener, Douglas Latchford and New Questions about Ancient Buddhas‘).

Through Mr Felch’s thorough investigative research, it was alleged that 2 Kushan Buddhas was stolen from an archaeological site in the city of Mathura, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The city was the second capital of the ancient Kushan empire.

The 2 Kushan Buddhas ended up with the New York dealer who allegedly provided false provenance (documents to show source of origin) for the statues. One statue was later sold to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and the other to ACM of Singapore.

Mr Felch’s story was partly confirmed by an Indian news report last month. According to the Times of India (‘Australia to return centuries-old stolen Buddha statue to India‘):

Australia to return centuries-old stolen Buddha statue to India

Australia has informed Indian authorities that it will soon return the sculpture, dating back to second century BC, realizing that it had been stolen from an archaeological site in India. Abbott has on several occasions stated that improving relations with India was high on his priority list and one of the ways he has reached out to the Modi government is by returning stolen artifacts illegally taken out of India…

According to a report in The Australian earlier this year, the artifact was purchased by billionaire philanthropist Ros Packer for NGA. After Indian authorities took up the issue with Australia, NGA launched a probe into how the statue was bought from a New York antiquities dealer and found that the dealer had tricked Australian authorities into believing that the red sandstone marvel had been purchased from a British collector in Hong Kong. The investigations revealed that the New York based dealer had travelled to India and acquired two Kushan Buddhas from a trafficker.”

Contacting ACM

Earlier, Mr Felch has also contacted ACM to enquire about the Kushan Buddha statue in the possession of ACM. An official from the National Heritage Board (NHB), a statutory board under Lawrence Wong’s MCCY, merely replied:

I refer to your email requesting more information about one of our objects in the museum.

The Kushana Buddha was purchased from a respected international dealer in the year 2000, who had purchased it from a private collector who had owned the piece since the 1960s.

The reply confirmed that ACM did acquire the said statue from a “respected international dealer” in 2000.

About 3 months ago, Mr Felch contacted Dr Alan Chong, the Chief Curatorial Director of ACM, mentioning the Kushan Buddha statue again.

Subject: Seated Buddha
From: Jason Felch
Date: November 6, 2014 at 12:16:36 PM PST
Cc: “Sharinita MOHD ISMAIL (NHB)”
To: “Alan CHONG (NHB)”

Mr. Chong,

I first contacted you in 2012 about the Seated Buddha in the ACM’s collection. Despite persistent requests, I never received a response to my request that you release the name of the dealer and prior owner.

I now have reason to believe the dealer was Nancy Wiener, and the former owner was a private collector named “Ian Donaldson” in Hong Kong. Wiener provided the same provenance for a Kushan Buddha now at the National Gallery of Australia.

A leading expert in India art with knowledge of both Buddhas says the provenance for both the ACM and the NGA’s Kushan Buddhas was fabricated to hide the fact that the statues had recently left India. In other words, Mr. Donaldson never possessed the sculptures, he says.

I am writing a story about this expert’s account, which was recently shared with the NGA. I would like your comment on the allegation. Also, please provide any information about what the ACM did to verify the provenance of the Seated Buddha before its acquisition in 2000.

Thank you.

Jason Felch
Arts journalist
Author, Chasing Aphrodite

Three months have passed and nothing is heard from ACM.

If the statue is not stolen and everything is in order, shouldn’t ACM issue a statement to clarify?

Why is ACM keeping mum over the whole matter?

What do you think?


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One response to “Investigative piece about possible archaeological loot in the possession of Asian Civilisations Museum

  1. Pingback: The little things that actually are symptomatic of much larger problems: NHB’s slick, but un-updated, website | 23princessroad's Blog

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