New York-Based Indian Art Gallery Owner Charged with Smuggling $143 Million in AntiquitiesTop Stories

July 11, 2019 17:40
New York-Based Indian Art Gallery Owner Charged with Smuggling $143 Million in Antiquities

(Image source from: CBC)

An Indian art dealer and seven others were charged with trafficking more than $140 million in stolen antiquities, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Authorities, calling the art dealer as one of the most prolific smugglers in the world, described the case as one of the largest of its kind, saying the conspiracy began more than three decades ago and involved over 2,600 recovered artifacts, which includes sculptures and ancient masterworks.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Manhattan state court, the smuggling was orchestrated by New York art gallery owner Subhash Kapoor, who was arrested in Germany in 2011 and then extradited to India, where he faces similar charges.

An email seeking comment was sent to Kapoor’s defense attorney.

The prosecution involves stolen artifacts from India, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and some other countries that were sold for profit to collectors and dealers across the world. Some of the items appeared in world-renowned museums without officials realizing they were ill-gotten gains.

“These are, in many instances, priceless works that represent the culture and history of the countries from which they were stolen,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. told The Associated Press in an interview. “They are of enormous value.”

Altogether, authorities said, the network trafficked more than $143 million worth of antiquities. The international investigation was called “Operation Hidden Idol.”

The United States Department of Homeland Security has described Kapoor as “one of the most prolific art smugglers in the world.” He faces 86 counts in the criminal complaint, including grand larceny and criminal possession of the stolen property.

The lead prosecutor, Matthew Bogdanos, told the AP that none of the defendants is believed to be in the United States. He said the authorities asked Interpol to issue international warrants for their arrest.

The 70-year0-old Kapoor owned the Art of the Past gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which authorities raided in early 2012.

The criminal complaint says Kapoor went to extraordinary lengths to in order to acquire the artifacts, many of the statues of Hindu gods, and then falsified their place of origin with forged documents.

It says Kapoor traveled the world seeking out antiquities that had been looted from temples, homes and archaeological sites.

Some of the artifacts were recovered from Kapoor’s storage units in New York.

Prosecutors said Kapoor had the items cleaned and repaired to get rid of any damage from illegal excavation, and then illicitly exported them to the United States from their countries of origin.

“Kapoor would also loan stolen antiquities to major museums and institutions,” the complaint says, “creating yet another false veneer of legitimacy by its mere presence in otherwise reputable museums and institutions.”

The other defendants in the case incorporate restorers and suppliers accused of conspiring with Kapoor.

By Sowmya Sangam

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new york  manhattan  art gallery