Police have seized hundreds of sacred Hindu artefacts and other collectibles, including Sanskrit scriptures, 35,000 ancient Balinese coins and golden statuettes from an Italian national, Roberto Gambia, 50, arrested in a raid on his Kerobokan villa last week.
Gambia was taken to hospital last week when police became concerned for his health in detention.
In a series of raids – beginning with one at Gambia’s Banjar Anyar villa last week and continuing this week at three warehouses he operated in Seminyak and Denpasar – police collected 144 Hindu artefacts believed to have been stolen from temples across Bali.
There has been a rash of temple thefts over the past four years. Police believe Gambia has been selling the artefacts illegally overseas but he told them he had acquired them legally and had an arrangement with a dealer in Jakarta.
Two associates of Gambia were also arrested this week. Police named them as Gusti Putu Okariadi and Gusti Lanang Sideman and described them as Gambia’s alleged accomplices.
A fourth man was also arrested. Komang Oka Sukaya runs an art shop on Jl Teuku Umar in Denpasar that was raided by police this week where they recovered artefacts they said were stolen.
Sukaya said he had never met Gambia but received a salary from him.
Police also raided premises on Jl Mertanadi in Kerobokan, only 100 metres from Kerobokan jail, but found nothing.
Bali’s temple thefts began in 2006, around the time Gambia says he started collecting artefacts. A total of 34 temples have been broken into and sacred items stolen since.
Police said Gambia told them this week he had bought artefacts from Gusti Putu and Gusti Lanang for Rp500,000 to Rp1 million (US$55-$111) each but believed he was buying legally obtained material. They had come, he said, from Gianyar, Tabanan and Nusa Penida.
But police, who are also looking for a French national in connection with the case, said each piece could fetch Rp200 million ($22,000) on the international market and the seized haul could be worth Rp200 billion ($22 million).
Police chief Hadiatmoko said cracking the case was a triumph for Badung Police and their commander, Dwi Suseno.