Police investigate heist of $1.5m Buddha statue from California gallery

Los Angeles police are investigating after a thief carried out an overnight heist and stole a $1.5m Buddha statue, weighing almost 250lb, from an antiquities gallery.

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Authorities received a report of a burglary on Monday at the Barakat Gallery, which offers “museum quality” ancient art. According to surveillance footage, the thief had stolen the statue in the early morning hours in what appeared to be a planned burglary.

The gallery director told the Los Angeles Times the burglar most likely “scoped out” the museum beforehand and then planned the heist of the 4ft-tall bronze statue, which dates back to Japan’s Edo period, from 1603 to 1867. The statue was displayed in an outdoor space rather than housed in the main gallery.

“He moves with intent, there’s no waffling around or looking around. He knew where to go,” Paul Henderson told the newspaper.

The gallery’s cameras captured the man for about 25min, during which time he backed a van into the building’s driveway, broke a gate and brought a dolly into a storage yard to remove the statue.

Fayez Barakat, the gallery’s owner, told KTLA that he acquired the Buddha more than 55 years ago, and previously kept it in his back yard before moving it to the gallery for visitors to enjoy. He said he believes the thief targeted the Buddha in a premeditated theft as other valuable items were left untouched.

“I hope that the person who stole it is not stealing it for the weight of bronze because it’s a historical item,” Barakat told the outlet. “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.”

The gallery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.