Indonesian court jails museum curator over theft of ancient Buddhist statues

The Bangkok Post, June 30, 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia -- The curator of a museum in central Indonesia was sentenced Monday to 18 months in jail for helping steal six ancient Buddhist statues and replacing them with replicas to cover up the crime, a judge said.

Suhadi Darmodipuro, who was among four people arrested for the 2006 theft at the Radya Pustaka Museum, said he regretted his involvement in the scam and would not appeal.

Presiding Judge Ganjar Susilo found the 70-year-old guilty of helping steal the stone statues, which date back to the 4th century, and selling them to a Dutch curator for between US$3,500 and US$20,000 each. Replicas made by local stonemasons were put in their place.

The scam was first uncovered by an ex-staffer at the museum in Surakarta, a city on Java island.

"I've given 50 years of my life to service the museum," Darmodipuro said after the verdict was handed down. "It was a big mistake. ... I very much regret it and accept this sentence."

Thieves have long targeted Indonesian antiquities left over from the country's Hindu and Buddhist era. The objects _ mostly statues and temple reliefs _ are in demand by wealthy locals and collectors on the international market.

The statues stolen from the Radya Pustaka Museum were recovered in a raid on the house of a wealthy businessman in the capital, Jakarta.