Museum theft ring busted in Indonesia

22 November 2007 (Jakarta Post, BBC) – A museum theft ring was uncovered in Surakarta, in Java, Indonesia, involving several staff members of a museum who have been selling the museum’s collections and replacing them with copies. The stolen artefacts are Hindu-Buddhist statues from Indonesia’s classical period, dating back to the 13th century.

Police break up internal theft racket at museum
by Suherdjoko

Several staff including a curator from Surakarta’s Radya Pustaka Museum have admitted to an internal theft racquet involving up to 13 century-old statues, after police acted on a former-staff member’s report.

Central Java Police said Wednesday they had recovered from a businessman’s home in Jakarta five of historical statues stolen from the museum.

Each statue had been replaced at the museum with fakes.


The businessman has been identified only as HS and he is believed to have purchased the stolen statues from the museum staff for more than Rp 500 million (US$54,190).

Central Java Police chief Insp. Gen. Dody Sumantyawan said HR was not at home when they raided his home.

Statues dating back to between the 4th and 10th Centuries were taken from the museum, including the Ciwa Mahadewa, Durga Mahesasuramardhini I and II, Agastya, Mahakala, Dhyani Buddha, Saraswati and Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara.

Thieves acting between 2005 and 2007 have also taken a large china tray, a bronze chandelier and a crystal fruit tray presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to the then-ruler of Surakarta, Paku Buwono IV.

The burglaries came to light only after former museum worker Andrea Amborowatiningsih spoke to the media about the disappearance of the museum’s collections.

Andrea said she had previously informed the museum curator KRH Darmodipuro of the disappearances — but she had been ignored.

She said the curator had persistently told her nothing was missing, before she was eventually dismissed from her job.

After Andrea reported the thefts, the police said they arrested on Sunday four suspects — Darmodipuro, 69 (museum curator), Suparjo, alias Gatot, 38 (security guard), Jawardi, 37 (maintenance staff), and Heru Suryanto, 55, a resident from Sukoharjo believed to be the middleman.

The suspects said they copied the statues before selling the originals to HS.

They told police they sold the Ciwa Mahadewa statue for Rp 35 million (approximately US$3,800), the Durga Mahisasuramardhini I and II statues for Rp 200 million and Rp 80 million respectively, the Agastya for Rp 90 million, and the Mahakala statue for Rp 100 million.

Dody said police would immediately question the businessman called HR once he returned to his Jakarta home.

“We will bring the statues back to the museum to compare them with the fake ones,” Dody said.

“Then an archeological team will study their differences.”

Archeologist Anggit Nugroho said laymen would probably not have been able to identify the fakes from the originals.

“But we will know immediately,” Anggit said.

“The fake ones were apparently made in Muntilan.

“And the carver made them based on photographs,” he said.

Police have not found the remaining six historical remnants stolen from the museum.

Police said a German national was also potentially involved in the theft of five of the statues.

“We are still investigating the role played by the foreigner and we are still unclear whether or not the statues (have been) taken overseas,” Dody said.

The museum is temporarily closed to the public until Nov. 26 due to police investigations.

Stolen Javanese statues returned
By Lucy Williamson

Five ancient statues allegedly stolen from an Indonesian museum by its curator have been found, officials say.

The statues were returned to the museum in the Javanese city of Surakarta after being found in the capital Jakarta.

Police have already arrested three members of museum staff and accused them of stealing statues from the collection and selling them off.

The five stone statues are all from central Java and date from the 7th to 9th centuries.

State investigators say the items are among nine pieces that went missing from the museum.

Three bronze statues and a porcelain plate are still missing.

No inventory

Investigators allege that the curator, helped by his staff, stole the pieces from the collection and replaced them with fakes.

The alleged scam was brought to light by a former employee, who told a professor at a local university what had happened.

The state archaeology body, which investigated her claims, said there had been no inventory at the museum for six years, and that many other items could be missing.

The museum, which was founded more than 100 years ago, is the oldest in Indonesia.

Related Books:
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage
Art of Indonesia: Pusaka
Icons of Art: The Collections of the National Museum of Indonesia by J. N. Miksic
Museum Treasures of Southeast Asia by B. Campell
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Worshiping Siva and Buddha: The Temple Art of East Java by A. R. Kinney, M. J. Klokke and L. Kieven
Find more books at the SEAArch bookstore.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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