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$1.5M bronze Buddha statue stolen from Los Angeles art gallery: ‘Like a museum heist-type thing’

(KTLA) – Security cameras captured the moment a valuable Buddha statue worth $1.5 million was stolen from a Los Angeles art gallery earlier this month.

The bronze statue, weighing 250 pounds, dates back to Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1867), according to the operators of the Barakat Gallery in Beverly Grove. It was believed to have been commissioned for the centerpiece of a temple, but it’s been in the possession of gallery owner Fayez Barakat more than half a century.

“I prize it so much,” said Barakat. “I had it in the backyard of my home and when I moved into this gallery, I put it in the backyard of the gallery for everybody to admire and enjoy.”

  • Historical bronze Buddha statue worth $1.5 million stolen from the Barakat Gallery in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2023. (Barakat Gallery)
  • Security camera catures a thief stealing a historical bronze Buddha statue worth $1.5 million from the Barakat Gallery in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2023. (Barakat Gallery)
  • Security camera catures a thief stealing a historical bronze Buddha statue worth $1.5 million from the Barakat Gallery in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2023. (Barakat Gallery)
  • Barakat Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles. (KTLA)

The prized statue sat in the gallery’s sculpture garden until Sept. 18, when it was stolen sometime around 3:45 a.m., officials said.

Security video shows the thief pulling up to the gallery in a moving truck. The driver steps out, breaks open a driveway gate, enters the gallery and uses a dolly to move the statue into the truck. The entire heist took around 25 minutes, the owner said.

“This gentleman came and, I think, strapped a rope or a chain around that piece and pulled it to his rental van and put it in the back,” Barakat said.

Barakat said he acquired the statue more than 55 years ago and that there is no other piece in the world quite like it.

“We have 200 objects back there, but this is our prize piece,” said Paul Henderson, the gallery’s director. “I don’t think there’s another like it on the market anywhere. It’s four feet tall, it’s hollow cast bronze, and it’s a stunning piece. It’s really aesthetically arresting and it’s shocking to see something like this go missing.”

Barakat believes the theft was premeditated due to the sculpture’s prominent display in the gallery’s outdoor space. There were hundreds of other valuable items that could’ve been stolen as well, but only the Buddha statue was targeted. He believes the thief seemed to have their heart set on this specific artifact. 

In the 12 years that Henderson has worked at the gallery, he said he’s never once experienced a burglary. He also said it would be quite difficult to sell the unique piece without getting caught.

“Because it’s an ancient artifact, there’s nowhere where you can sell this piece,” Henderson said. “You can’t go on the market. You can’t take it to a pawn shop and sell it for a few thousand dollars; it’s just not possible. So, it’s very interesting. It’s like a museum heist-type thing where, what are you going to do with this object right now? We’re all very curious and really puzzled, to be honest.”

Barakat is hoping someone can track down the stolen sculpture before the thief decides to possibly melt it down to sell for the bronze’s pure value.

“I hope that the person who stole it is not stealing it for the weight of bronze because it’s a historical item,” Barakat said. “I’m heartbroken. Whoever stole it, maybe that person understood the value. Probably they commissioned somebody, a thief of some kind, to just go ahead and steal it.”

Barakat said he is also offering a reward to anyone who returns the sculpture.

Los Angeles police said no arrests have been made. Officers are searching for surveillance footage in the area as the investigation continues.


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