TAIPEI (AFP) — A relic looted from China is in the hands of a Taiwanese collector who dropped plans to auction it after Beijing's wrath over sales of other stolen antiques, an expert told local media Friday.
Wellington Wang, a well-known local art collector, told the TVBS news channel he was contacted by a businessman who claimed to have the bronze dragon's head and was initially looking to auction it.
The relic, along with the rabbit and rat bronze heads auctioned by Christie's last month, were stolen by British and French forces from China's imperial Summer Palace towards the end of the Second Opium War in 1860.
"He was willing to sell it if the (Christie's) auction went well. He didn't expect such a big fallout and now everybody is afraid," Wang said, indicating that the dealer had changed his mind.
The owner allegedly bought the dragon's head for 200,000 US dollars from a European antique dealer around 1988 and has since stored it in central Taiwan, Wang told the local Apple Daily.
Wang declined to name the collector and added he has not seen the artefact.
The dragon's head could be more valuable than the rabbit and rat if it due to its highly symbolic status in Chinese culture, the newspaper said, quoting another local antique collector.
The two bronzes, part of the art collection of late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, sold for 15.7 million euros (20.3 million dollars) each at the Christie's auction in Paris last month.
Authorities in Beijing had repeatedly called for the sale not to go ahead and called for the relics be returned to China.
A Chinese art collector admitted he was the bidder but refused to pay the money, leaving the auction in limbo.
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