Nancy Wiener, art dealer who sold NGA stolen Buddha statue arrested in New York
The woman who sold the National Gallery of Australia a stolen Buddha statue in 2007, used a false past and owner, hoodwinked a Singapore museum with the same story and made millions before being caught.
Nancy Wiener was arrested in New York on Wednesday for her part in a conspiracy spanning decades involving stolen art, fake documents and millions of dollars with documents lodged in New York’s Criminal Court offering a detailed insight into the world of illegal arts dealing, revealing a complicated process that paid off in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.
The second century Buddha which was purchased by the NGA in 2007. Photo: AAP
In 1999, Ms Wiener purchased two statues from an illegal supplier in 1999 and in 2007 the NGA purchased one from the Nancy Wiener Gallery for over $1.2 million before discovering it was stolen in India.
An NGA spokesperson said on Friday the gallery could not provide a full comment at the time but were working with Indian authorities on provenance research.
“We purchased one work from Nancy Wiener, it’s been returned to India and the Gallery received a refund,” the spokesperson said.
In 2000, Ms Wiener sold the other seated buddha statue to Singapore’s Asian Civilisation’s Museum without any proof. The museum finally requested proof years later and Ms Wiener told them three different stories of its origin before settling on one.
She said an Englishman named Ian Donaldson originally purchased the statue when posted to Vietnam between 1964 – 1966.
In May 2006 she told the NGA Ian Donaldson had purchased the statue when he was posted to Hong Kong between 1964 – 1966, despite Ms Wiener claiming to the Singaporeans he was posted to Vietnam at the time.
While it is not clear in the court documents if the Ian Donaldson cover story was the only proof offered to the NGA, an announcement from the NGA dated March 2015 made reference to it and didn’t reference any other proof.
“In 2007, the NGA regarded the information available about the sculpture as adequate at the time of its purchase with documented provenance outside India in 1964-66,” it read.
It was one of the dodgy purchases made by the NGA which prompted a review of the gallery’s screening methods, with an internal report finding the purchase did not have satisfactory provenance and the material provided by the dealer didn’t even establish the buddha had left India.
Guidelines in place after the scandal required the NGA to get documents proving art was authorised to leave its country of origin.
From 1999 to 2016, Ms Wiener purchased stolen antiquities from across the globe including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan and Thailand before selling it to galleries or renowned auctions houses like Sotheby’s or Christie’s in New York.
The Department of Homeland Security Investigations arrested the Upper East Side art dealer and charged her with conspiracy and criminal possession of stolen property in the first and second degree.
Special Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security Investigation said in the lodged complaint the investigation included tens of thousands of emails, documents and photographs and over fifty search warrants.