• Fri
  • Aug 22, 2014
  • Updated: 3:02pm

Dutch art expert on the run after theft of artefacts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2007, 12:00am

Indonesian museum relics sold off

Indonesian police have asked Interpol to track down a Dutch national accused of stealing centuries-old Buddhist and Hindu statues from the historic city of Surakarta.

The case suggests priceless archaeological artefacts have been siphoned off by museum officials.

Hugo Kreijger, an expert in Southeast Asian art, is accused of illegally buying five statues via a broker from staff at a museum in Surakarta, central Java, and selling them to a wealthy Indonesian businessman. The artefacts are protected under the country's heritage laws.

A police investigation found that the five statues had been replaced with copies, which museum officials admitted had been produced by a local craftsman for as little as 700,000 rupiah each (HK$590).

The case came to light when a university student working at the Radya Pustaka Museum noticed differences between photos in a government agency's records of the carvings and those in the museum.

The businessman, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, told police he legally bought the statues from Mr Kreijger in London last year, believing he was a representative for Christie's auction house.

'I was sure it was legal, because it was confirmed by Hugo, who doesn't cheat people and who has built up a good reputation during his 25-year career,' Mr Djojohadikusumo said.

He claims he paid US$100 million for the five statues, as well as other artefacts. He says the statues came with certificates confirming they belonged to Surakarta's royal court.

Mr Djojohadikusumo says he first met Mr Kreijger when he was an adviser for Christie's auction house in Amsterdam and says he has been a Christie's client since 1996.

Mr Kreijger, author of at least two books on Tibetan and Nepali art, was listed until recently on Christie's website as a Southeast Asian art expert based in Amsterdam. According to Arts in Asia, a specialist arts magazine based in Hong Kong, he organised several exhibitions for Christie's, including one in 2001 in Holland of carvings and relics from Java's 13th century Majapahit Empire.

However, his name was dropped from the Christie's site this week.

Police said they believed Mr Kreijger, who entered Indonesia on a tourist visa, was still in the country, but they had nevertheless contacted Interpol in case he fled the country.

'We have contacted Interpol and we have also co-ordinated with other relevant institutions to prevent him from leaving the country,' said Chief Inspector General Doddy Sumantyawan of Central Java Police.

A Dutch diplomat confirmed that Mr Kreijger was a Dutch citizen, but said the embassy did not know of his whereabouts. 'For us, this is a matter of Indonesian police; it's in the hands of the Indonesian legal system.'

Last month, police arrested museum curator Darmodipuro, as well as artefacts collector, Heru Suryanto, who admitted he paid Darmodipuro to steal the statues. But experts say far more than just the five pieces have been stolen from the museum.

'Many more statues have been taken, I think probably only 30 per cent of the museum's artefacts are original,' said Djoko Dwijanto, an archaeologist from Gadja Madja University in central Java.

Mr Dwijanto said that an investigation by a team of archaeologists found that many of the statues and artefacts in the museum did not match the museum's catalogue and appeared to be fakes.

He said the case highlighted the poor protection provided to archaeological remnants. Java has dozens of Buddhist and Hindu temples dating back as far as the 4th century, but most are poorly guarded, he said.

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