Monday, September 13, 2010

French Citizen Arrested Over Looted Temple Objects in Bali

Made Arya Kencana | September 13, 2010

Denpasar. Police in Bali have arrested a Frenchman believed to be the accomplice of an Italian national recently arrested on suspicion of looting local treasures.

Pascal Morabito, 65, was arrested on Monday for the illegal possession of stuffed rare snakes and turtles and priceless figurines from temples.

His arrest came 11 days after that of Italian Roberto Gamba, 50, in Badung district.

Badung Police detective chief Adj. Comr. Soma Adnyana said on Monday that police had been tracking Morabito since Gamba’s arrest, during which they had seized stolen sacred Hindu objects known as pratima .

“We suspected that Morabito was linked to the thefts of the pratima , which we unraveled days ago,” Adnyana said.

Police had only learned about Morabito’s involvement after a raid on a warehouse owned by Gamba last Tuesday.

Adnyana said that following marathon questioning, Gamba had indicated the involvement of the Frenchman.

“Based on those interrogations, we raided a villa on Monday at about 10:30 a.m. rented by Morabito on Jalan Pantai Berawa in North Kuta,” he said. “In this villa we found many of the figurines.”

Following Morabito’s arrest and interrogation, police learned that he also used a rented room on Jalan Teuku Umar Barat in Denpasar to store artifacts and stuffed animals.

“It was at this address that police found the 11 stuffed animals and sacred Hindu artifacts,” Adnyana said.

“He has so far been charged under existing regulations covering cultural heritage. We have not yet declared him a suspect in the thefts of the items.”

Adnyana added that Morabito had said the artifacts were acquired from several locations.

Bali Police Chief Insp. Gen. Hadiatmoko said that to date, police had named six suspects in connection with the thefts of the artifacts, including Gamba, the suspected supplier, Gusti Lanang Sidemen, and art shop owner Koman Sukaya.

“We believe that Gamba is involved in an international ring. We have seized his laptop computer,” Hadiatmoko said.

He said police had not yet established how many temple thefts Gamba had masterminded, but said that up to 2008 police had recorded thefts from at least 34 temples across the island.

On Sept. 2, police arrested Gamba after seizing 110 sacred Hindu objects at his residence on Jalan Bumbuk in Badung.

Adnyana said Gamba had lived in Bali for more than 10 years and was a known collector of various local treasures.

He said police had recovered sacks of ancient Balinese coins, antique kris (ceremonial daggers) and gold statues.

The Italian reportedly told police that he had been collecting the objects from locals and from Jakarta since 2006 and denied suggestions that he knew the items were sacred and looted from temples.

Police, however, are not amused. “He bought the pratima cheaply, for between Rp 500,000 [$56] and Rp 1 million,” Adnyana said.

“The evidence strongly suggests that he is a dealer who buys stolen objects.” Adnyana said that the recovered items could be worth at least Rp 2 billion.

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