Police have arrested a number of people, raided three separate storage facilities, and confiscated 144 sacred Hindu artifacts purportedly stolen from temples across Bali.
At the center of the arrests is a 50-year-old Italian national and resident of Bali, Roberto Gamba, who apparently purchased and received the sacred effigies stolen by local men.
Highly revered by the Balinese, the small statuettes depict deities and supporting characters from a sacrosanct Bali-Hindu pantheon.
Interrogation by police of Gamba, the men who sold him the items and downloads from a confiscated laptop computer owned by the Italian are leading to a wider circle of arrests and raids on local shops and warehouses used to store the stolen religious items.
Police confiscated 100 sacred artifacts from Gamba's villa in Bali together with a large array of ancient Balinese coins, sacred Sanskrit scriptures and sacred effigies. With threats by incensed neighbors to burn Gamba's villa, police have taken the man into protective custody to allow them to complete their investigation.
Police are linking the artifacts to a series of robberies at least 34 Balinese temples carried out over the past four years, alleging he knowingly purchased the stolen items in order to sell them to other parties outside Bali.
In his defense, Gamba claims no knowledge that the items were stolen, having purchased the items from three Balinese – Gusti Putu Okariadi, Komang Oka Sukaya and Gusti Lanang Sidemen for prices ranging from Rp. 500,000 to Rp. 1 million (US$55-$110).
Police are also said to be now seeking a French national they believed is also involved in the scheme.
Aware of the strong emotions the case has raised across the Balinese public, Bali's chief of police General Hadiatmoko has taken a direct interest in the case, personally interrogating Roberto Gamba who remains in police custody.
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