Filmmaker in idol theft net

A veteran Tamil film producer-director was arrested yesterday on the charge of being part of a gang that steals temple idols and smuggles them out of the country.

By G.C. Shekhar in Chennai
  • Published 14.08.15
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Filmmaker V Sekar

Chennai, Aug. 13: A veteran Tamil film producer-director was arrested yesterday on the charge of being part of a gang that steals temple idols and smuggles them out of the country.

V. Sekar, 63, has made more than 15 films, mostly family dramas that preached middle-class values.

Police claim to have seized from his house eight idols made of panchaloha (five metals), allegedly stolen from three temples in January.

"The international value of the idols is estimated to be nearly Rs 80 crore," said Prateep Philip, additional director-general of police with the criminal investigation department's "idol wing".

Police sources claimed that Sekar had been caught red-handed at his home while he was allegedly negotiating these idols' sale with some smugglers so that they could be shipped out of the country.

Philip said the arrest of Dhanalingam, a small-time production manager who had worked with Sekar in many of his films, in connection with the thefts had led the police to Sekar's home.

"Dhanalingam spilled the beans on Sekar. We are looking for nine others, including a college student," Philip said.

Police sources said Sekar had admitted to having got involved in the racket after suffering losses over his latest film, which featured his son in the lead role. "He said Dhanalingam and his friends had suggested that the idols would be safe at Sekar's home in Kodambakkam because no one would suspect a respected film director," an officer said.

"Sekar said he now felt ashamed at having tried to sell a part of the national heritage to criminals."

Smugglers had over the past two decades targeted panchaloha and stone idols at small temples in the state as they had little security. This had prompted the state government to form a police wing dedicated to tracing and bringing back stolen idols.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Australia last September, his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, had returned an 11th-century bronze idol of Nataraja and a stone sculpture of Ardhanariswara, Shiva's half-female form, dating back to the 10th century.

Both had been stolen from Tamil Nadu and sold to art galleries in Australia. The state police tracked them down and convinced Canberra of their authenticity and heritage with the help of old photographs and drawings. The police linked the theft to alleged idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor.

Kapoor, 65, a US citizen of Indian origin, had been extradited to India from Germany in July 2012 after being accused of smuggling eight Chola-period idols that had been stolen from a temple in Thanjavur in August 2008.

Now lodged in the Puzhal jail outside Chennai and awaiting trial, Kapoor also faces charges of smuggling 28 idols to America between 2006 and 2008.

"Kapoor's international network of looters and smugglers is still being mapped by authorities in the United States, who have already seized over $100 million in art from the dealer's Manhattan gallery and storage facilities," says Chasing Aphrodite, a website that tracks stolen antiquities in world museums.

"Federal investigators in the United States are methodically working through mountains of evidence seized from Kapoor, probing his ties to a number of American and foreign museums that did business with the dealer."