More information has come to light in the developing story of the theft of sacred objects from more than 20 religious temples across Bali in which a group of seven Balinese men and an Italian national, Roberto Gamba (50) are being detained.[See: Skeletons in the Closet]
In addition to Gamba, also in custody are 7 Balinese men: I Komang Oka Sukaya, I Gusti Putu Oka alias Agung alias Gung Jaya alias Gung Aji Tabanan, I Wayan Eka Putra alias Eka alias Sastra alias Surung, Komang Gede Pariana alias Apel alias Koko, I Gusti Agung Komang Suardika alias Komang Enok, and I Gusti Lanang Sidemen.
Angered at the sacrilege represented by the brazen theft and commercialization of sacred objects, a leader from the PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia), Gusti Ngurah Sudiana has called on authorities to treat those responsible for the theft like terrorists, sentencing them to death or life imprisonment. Sudiana has been joined by the chairman of the Bali branch of the religious harmony association (FKUB), Ida Bagus Gede Wiyana, in calling for maximum punishments for all involved.
Meanwhile, officers from the Bali Police Command have declared their intent to involve Interpol to seek more leads in a suspected international network in stolen Balinese sacred items.
Police have also downloaded the contents of a personal laptop computer owned by Gamba in the hope of gaining insights on possible other illegal transactions and locate missing items.
While formal charges have yet to laid with prosecutors by the police, the men are threatened with at least 3-5 years of prison for theft. Police have not ruled out enhancing the charges against the men to include religious blasphemy which carries more severe levels of punishment.
Reports last week in a number of national media and balidiscovery.com suggesting links between a French national, Pascal Morabito (65), and the theft of sacred objects have now been discounted.
Morabito, a collector of historical objects and art, was questioned by police when, working on information from the public, his Canggu estate was raided and two ancient human skulls, purchased in Europe and imported to Bali were seized.
A 1992 law on heritage preservation mandates that human skeletons can only be privately held with official authorization. Failure to obtain the necessary permits can be punished with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to Rp. 50 million (US$5,555).
The Frenchman also trespassed local religious and moral sensibilities by storing body parts in his residence, an act deemed unclean and taboo within the Balinese community.
While waiting to see if police will forward his case for prosecution, Morabito has apologized publicly for his ignorance of the law and any offense unintentionally given to the people of Bali.
At the same time, Morabito has also disavowed any connection to Italian Roberto Gamba and the current case of stolen religious artifacts.
Morabito, contacted balidiscovery.com where he also stated:
• He has never been arrested by the police but only called as a witness.
• That only two ancient human skulls were found at his home in Canggu by police – the Morabito Art Villa
• That he has never purchased turtle carcasses or snake skins. He has no connection with the discovery of such items found at a warehouse on Jalan Teuku Umar in Denpasar. Morabito insists that he has no connection whatsoever with the warehouse or its contents.
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