It is a scandal involving stolen statues, suspected murder, theft and ruined careers. At its centre is one of Indonesia's royal families and the international art market.

The stealing of a group of over 1000 year-old statues from a museum in the Central Javanese town of Solo might well have gone unnoticed if it were not for an alert young university student working there. Ambar refused to listen to the excuses of the museum's director and brought the thefts to public attention. She was fired as a result. 

It quickly emerged that the statues had been sold to a well known Dutch art dealer, who apparently thought they were the property of the improverished King of Solo.

His court riven by a succession battle, the king needs money but his family have denied selling the artifacts.

They have blamed the museum director for taking the statues, which eventually ended up in the house of a prominent Indonesian multi-millionaire.

Who instigated the theft of
the statues is a mystery

With the statues safely held in a police evidence room, an official investigation into the thefts was launched with the help of prominent archaeological experts.

But in a tragic twist, one of the experts, Lambang Babar Purnomo, was found dead, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run accident.

That is not an explanation that either his family or Ambar believes.

They insist that he had received death threats over his part in the case and police reports say he suffered unusual injuries for a traffic accident.

With prices for Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist art skyrocketing and the trade attracting more and more suspicious characters out to profit from it, there is growing concern that the seamy side of the international art market might have played a part in Lambang's death.

The case remains a mysterious one; the role of the royal family has been questioned, with the statues becoming a weapon for a renegade prince with which to attack the present king.

He has questioned the king's fitness to carry on in a role that, while now largely ceremonial, remains spiritually significant to many people in Solo.

The thefts have also thrown a spotlight on the vulnerable state of Indonesia's precious heritage. The statues were well catalogued, with a clumsy attempt made to disguise their disappearence. Rough modern fakes were put in their place; a substitution swiftly noticed by Ambar.

If even artifacts from the country's oldest museum could be taken, the fear is that many other, less well known, treasures might well be leaving the country or being smuggled into the hands of private collectors.

In a special investigation Al Jazeera looks at the threat to Indonesia's heritage, the heroic role played by one young woman in exposing the theft of the statues and the tragic price one man paid for his attempts to prevent the looting of the country's past.

Watch part one of this episode of The Art of Deception on YouTube

Watch part two of this episode of The Art of Deception on YouTube

The Art of Deception airs from Saturday, March 29, 2008 at the following times GMT:

Saturday 29th March, 14:30, 22:30, Sunday 30th March, 02:30, 12:30, Monday 31st March 00:30, Tuesday 1st April, 13:30, Wednesday 2nd April, 11:30, 19:30, Thursday 3rd April, 05:30, Friday 4th April, 03:00, 10:30, 16:30, Saturday 5th April, 06:30


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Source: Al Jazeera