Indonesia seeks fugitive treasure hunter

30th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Indonesian police said Friday they had barred undersea treasure hunter Michael Hatcher from leaving the country and declared him a fugitive.

Hatcher, who was reportedly born in Britain but grew up in Australia, is being hunted for trying to smuggle thousands of pieces of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) porcelain out of the country in two ships that were intercepted in September, police said.

"We have banned him from travelling overseas since yesterday because he stole those treasures. The police are still trying to ascertain his whereabouts," national chief detective Ito Sumardi said.

Officials said Thursday that they had "strong indications" that Hatcher had been conducting illegal salvage work on a wreck in the Java Strait north of Jakarta.

Some 2,360 pieces of porcelain were seized on the ships that were intercepted in waters off West Java in September.

Hatcher could be jailed for five years and fined 50 million rupiah (5,500 dollars) if found guilty.

The treasure hunter has excavated shipwrecks in Indonesia since the mid-1980s, when officials said he made 17 million dollars from auctioning gold ingots and Chinese porcelain salvaged from a wreck found off the Riau islands.

They said he had already begun to market items from his latest wreck.

The hunt for Hatcher comes as the government prepares to conduct an auction for some 270,000 pieces of ancient treasure ranging from Tunisia and Egypt to India and China that was found on a wreck in the Java Strait in 2003.

The artefacts will be sold on Wednesday as a single lot with a starting bid of 80 million dollars.

The proceeds will be split evenly between the government and the salvagers, including Belgian treasure hunter Luc Heymans' Cosmix Underwater Research Ltd.

© 2010 AFP

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