As a result of a 15-year investigation, the US has been able to repatriate 307 antiquities stolen and trafficked from India and valued at nearly four million dollars. The majority were seized from disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
On Monday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that 307 antiquities valued at nearly USD 4 million had been returned to India.
As a result of an investigation launched by the Manhattan District Attorney into Kapoor, “a prolific looter who helped traffic items from Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other countries,” 235 antiquities were seized.
In a statement issued by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the antiquities were returned at the Indian Consulate in New York during a repatriation ceremony attended by India’s Consul General Randir Jaiswal and Acting Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Christopher Lau of Homeland Security Investigations.
“These antiquities were stolen by multiple complex and sophisticated trafficking rings whose leaders had no regard for their cultural or historical significance,” Bragg stated, saying, “We are proud to return hundreds of stunning pieces back to the people of India.” Among the pieces being returned is the Arch Parikara, a marble sculpture that dates from the 12th-13th century. One of the antiquities seized from Kapoor was the Arch Parikara, which is estimated to be worth approximately USD 85,000.
The term first appeared in photographs depicting ancient artifacts in a dirty, pre-restoration condition. The photographs, along with dozens of others showing antiquities lying in grass or on the ground, were sent to Kapoor by an illicit goods supplier in India, according to the statement, which added that the piece had been smuggled out of India and brought to New York in May 2002.
The Arch Parikara was given to the Yale University Art Gallery by Kapoor in 2007, after the Nathan Rubin – Ida Ladd Family Foundation acquired it.
According to Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Alfonso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York, the repatriation was the result of a fifteen-year investigation spanning the globe, where the investigators pursued leads, tracked the money, and eventually seized these items, Five of the antiquities were seized during an investigation into antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener, who had pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to steal and possessing stolen property. A total of 60 antiquities were stolen from India by a number of smaller trafficking networks.
As part of the investigation, the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit has been investigating Kapoor and his co-conspirators for illegal looting, exporting, and selling of artifacts from numerous countries throughout the world for over a decade, together with law enforcement partners at Homeland Security Investigations.
Generally, Kapoor and his co-defendants smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through his Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2022, the District Attorney’s Office and the Homeland Security Investigations recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and his associates. Over USD 143 million has been recovered in the value of the pieces recovered.
The United States returned 157 artefacts and antiquities to India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country last year.
It was reported that Modi and US President Joe Biden had “committed to strengthening their efforts to combat theft, illicit trade, and trafficking in cultural objects.” Last year, the US returned 248 antiquities to India worth an estimated USD 15 million.
The District Attorney’s Office had issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor in 2012, and in November 2019, Kapoor and his seven co-defendants were indicted for conspiring to traffic stolen antiquities.
Kapoor has been in prison in India since 2012 pending the completion of his ongoing trial. The District Attorney’s Office filed extradition paperwork for him in July 2020. Currently, five of Kapoor’s co-defendants have been convicted.
Vishnu and Lakshmi with Garuda dating to the 11th century C.E. is among the antiquities being returned from Wiener. This statue was looted from a temple in Central India and smuggled into New York City.
Over USD 84 million worth of antiquities have been returned to 13 countries by the Office in 2022 alone. In the years since it was established, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit has returned nearly 2,200 antiquities to 22 countries, valued at more than 160 million dollars.