Police in Tamil Nadu have arrested veteran film maker V Sekar for allegedly stealing temple idols worth Rs 80 crore to make up for the losses from a film starring his son.
Sekar (63) was picked up from his Kodambakkam residence on Wednesday along with eight panchaloha idols stolen from three temples, ADGP Prateep Philip of the state police's idol wing said.
The police caught up with him while he was allegedly negotiating with smugglers to sell them in the international market for as much as Rs 80 crore.
Sekar confessed in custody that he decided to smuggle the temple idols after he incurred severe losses while producing a film to launch his son's career.
"I feel ashamed now, especially as I tried to sell our cultural heritage to criminals," he told his interrogators.
Sekar has so far produced 15 films, mostly family dramas like `Varavu Ettana Selavu Pathana' and 'Kaalam Maari Pochu' which preach middle class values.
Police got on his trail after the arrest of his former production manager Dhanalingam in January on charges of stealing an idol.
Dhanalingam reassured the reputed film producer that nobody would suspect him if the idols were stored at his house which is in a locality where many from the Tamil film industry reside.
Tamil Nadu police launched its idol wing after hundreds of 'panchaloha' idols from small temples across Tamil Nadu were stolen and smuggled outside the country over the last two decades. The idols found their way to private collectors and big museums in Europe, the US and Australia.
The most famous instance was when Australian premier Tony Abott returned two idols -- an 11th century bronze of Nataraja and a 10th century stone sculpture of Ardhanareeswara (Siva in half female form)-- when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited that country last September.
These two were, according to the police, stolen by notorious idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor, who is now lodged at the Puzhal jail in Chennai after his extradition from Germany in July 2012.
Australia agreed to return the idols after the TN police approached its government with sufficient proof, including old pictures and drawings.
Kapoor, 65, an American citizen of Indian origin, is charged with theft of eight antique Chola-age idols of Hindu dieties from a temple in Thanjavur district in August 2008. He also faces charges of stealing and smuggling 28 other idols between the year 2006 and 2008.