THIS is not The Thomas Crown Affair, a film about a billionaire from the United States who manages to purloin a Claude Monet painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This is, however, about the real-life theft of works of art, which took place at the Radya Pustaka Museem in Solo, Central Java. The thieves stole five original stone sculptures and replaced them with replicas to cover up the crime. On Sunday last week, police arrested and detained four suspected perpetrators.
The theft might not have even been discovered if it were not for a complaint made last September by Ambarawatiningsih (Ambar), an employee with temporary status who had worked at the museum. The five carvings which were missing were the Agastya Siwa Mahaguru, Durga Mahesa Suramadini, Mahakala, Durga Mahesa Suramadini II, and Ciwa. Ambar became suspicious upon spotting some differences between photos belonging to the Conservatory for Archeological Relics (BP3) of Central Java and the statues on display in the museum. Among other things, the originals were rough stone carvings. Those on display were smoother. The color and type of stone was also different.
Ambar reported these discrepancies to the Solo Office of Tourism. Rather than checking out her report, she was fired. This university student at the Faculty of Culture and Humanities at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, then informed one of her anthropology lecturers. The news finally reached the Conservatory. Based on the old documentation of the museum’s collection, on September 26, 2007, the Conservatory checked the validity of the report. Convinced that the information was true, they did not convey their findings to Museum Curator KRH Darmodipuro, but rather conveyed them directly to the police.
Based on this report, the police questioned witnesses. At first, eight were questioned, among them Ambar herself. Their testimony convinced police that the sculptures were fakes. The five replicas were confiscated. The names of possible perpetrators came up during the investigation. First to be mentioned was Heru Suryanto, who often met with KRH Darmodipuro alias Mbah Hadi and his assistant, Jarwadi. It was also said that Heru photographed museum items together with a foreigner, who was identified as Hugo Kreijger, a consultant for Asian art from Christie’s International auction house. It seems that police were able to put the pieces together after hearing that Heru had ordered a number of statues from craftsmen in Muntilan, Magelang.
It was this testimony which convinced police of Heru’s involvement. On early Sunday morning last week, he was taken into custody at his home in Gentan, Sukoharjo. After that a security guard at the museum, Gatot, and Jarwadi, were detained. From the testimony of these three, police were further convinced that Mbah Hadi, the museum curator, was involved. He was also detained. The theft of the ancient artifacts at the museum which was built on October 28, 1890 was finally uncovered.
Unlike The Tomas Crown Affair, the thief who stole the stone carvings from Radya Pustaka did not rob the museum by using high-tech devices. In Solo, it was done by working with the guards.
From the start of the investigation, the police were already on to this possibility, as security at the museum is rather tight. A 2-meter-high steel fence was erected in early 2002. To beef up security, an alarm was added. Of course, it would not be easy to walk out carrying statues which weigh about 100 kilos. Moreover, said a source in the police, several different types of keys are needed to enter the area where these relics from the Sultan of Solo are stored. The 18 keys to the museum are held by just two people: Mbah Hadi and Jarwadi. “Also, there were no signs of damage on the doors, windows, or the place where the carvings are kept,” said the source. This means that the thief entered through the door normally.
It was discovered in the police investigation that Heru came up with the idea for the theft. In the beginning, this man who is well-known in the community of collectors of ancient artifacts tried to convince Mbah Hadi to release the Ciwa and two-handed Durga Mahesa Suramadini statues. Mbah Hadi initially refused, but an incentive of Rp115 million changed his mind. It was agreed to part with those two statues. To convince Mbah Hadi of the secrecy of his plan, Heru said he had prepared replicas. One night in July 2006, these four carried out two statues which had been locked up in the museum. By using a pickup truck which drove up to a side door, they carried the carvings outside without raising much suspicion. This was the case, even though every night many people hang about the museum.
As it turned out, they did not stop there. Two months later, the Agastya carving was sold for Rp90 million. They struck again in November 2006, this time hauling off the eight-handed Durga Mahesa Suramadini statue and the Mahakala statue. These carvings sold for Rp200 million and Rp100 million respectively. Less than a year later, the switch had still not been discovered, until a temporary worker from the Office of Social Affairs who worked at the museum noticed something unusual.
This is a new type of theft in Indonesia. “There has never been a theft like this before,” said Winston Mambo, head of the Jambi Archeological Conservatory. In general, said this former head of the East Java Archeological Conservatory, the theft of archeological relics usually takes place at the site of origin, not at the museum.
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Heru’s confession directed police to the location of the five original artifacts, namely at the home of Hashim Djojohadikusumo on Jalan Kemang V B, Bangka Subdistrict, Mampang Prapatan, South Jakarta. On Tuesday last week, the five statues were taken from the home of the younger brother of former Commander of the Special Forces Command, Prabowo Subianto, and returned to Solo for inclusion in the investigation.
According to Heru, speaking to police, the statues were bought by Hashim. Fadli Zon, a colleague of Hashim’s, denied this testimony and said that the statues were bought from Hugo Kreijger. At first, said Fadli, Hugo came to Hashim and said that the statues from the King of the Surakarta Keraton (Royal Palace) would be sold abroad. “Because he felt a calling as an Indonesian nationalist, Hashim bought the items, which came with letters signed by Hugo Kreijger and Pakubuwono XIII,” said Fadli Zon.
Hashim, said Fadli Zon, is a collector of Indonesian art and historical objects. Most of his collection was obtained from auction houses abroad, such as in London, Amsterdam, New York, and Hong Kong. Hashim’s collection was to be kept in a museum which is expected to be constructed at the University of Indonesia as a part of the Soemitro Djojohadikusumo Library.
Police have sent a summons to Hashim for questioning, on Friday last week. “This summons has been received by his assistant,” said Adj. Comr. Syarif Rahman, head of the Detectives and Criminology Unit of the Solo Police. Police also received information regarding the involvement of Hugo Kreijger. “We are still looking into his role,” said Syarif. Regarding the summons, Fadli Zon said, “I am sure that Pak Hashim does not yet know there is a summons from the police.” Currently, his colleague is still in London, England. Mariani, Hashim’s wife, via text message, did not want to comment on the matter. “Everything has been handled by a lawyer,” said Mariani to L.N. Idayanie from Tempo.
The Keraton emphatically denied there was any letter which went with the statues. KP Edy Wirabumi, head of the Keraton’s legal body, confirmed that the letter was a forgery. According to him, letters from the keraton are always noted at the Sasana Wilapa, and the keraton has never issued a letter in connection with a museum statue piece. “Because we never issued such a letter, we are sure that it is a forgery,” said Edy. Sasana Wilapa is a sort of state secretariat office for the keraton. All correspondence must pass through the Sasana Wilapa and be noted in a delivery book.
GKR Wandansari, head of the Sasana Wilapa of the Solo Keraton, suspects someone tried to utilize the name of Sinuhun Hangabehi. Gusti Mung—as Wandansari is better known—confirmed that Sinuhun never issued a letter about any statues. Mbah Hadi, who was asked by reporters regarding the matter of a letter accompanying the statues, succinctly and emphatically denied this, saying, “There are no letters.”
Edy finally recalled something which happened in 2006. He said he was met by Heru, who asked for the keraton to issue a letter of validation which stated that the keraton owned a certain object, although Edy does not remember which object was indicated in the request. Even so, he does not deny the possibility that the letter was made illegally. “If the statues could be faked, then a stamp or signature could be forged as well,” said Edy Wirabumi.
Abdul Manan, Purwanto (Jakarta), Imron Rosyid (Solo)
Tempo Magazine, No. 13/VIII/Nov 26-Dec 03, 2007