Indian-origin art dealer Subhash Kapoor faced a new criminal complaint filed this week by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. US authorities have charged the New York-based antiquities dealer with 86 criminal counts of grand larceny, possession of stolen property and conspiracy to defraud.
Kapoor, incarcerated in Chennai since 2012, reportedly ran a massive smuggling ring through his gallery, Art of the Past, from 1986 to 2016. He is accused of bringing thousands of looted artefacts from India as well as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan and other nations, with a combined worth of nearly USD 146 million, into the US for sale.
Seven other individuals, including dealers in Hong Kong and Singapore who helped bring the objects into the US, and art restorers in Brooklyn and London, who cleaned and repaired the antiquities in preparation for sale, face related charges.
“Kapoor would also loan stolen antiquities to major museums and institutions creating yet another false veneer of legitimacy by its mere presence in otherwise reputable museums and institutions,” the complaint stated and described how, even after his arrest in Germany in 2011, Kapoor was still allegedly engaged in the conspiracy.
Anuraag Saxena, co-founder of the India Pride Project, a volunteer organisation involved in tracking and recovering stolen Indian artefacts, has on many occasions highlighted the enormous scale of the smuggling ring.
"In one day, in one raid, in one city, on one dealer in the US, they recovered over USD 100 million worth of heritage. One of the murthis (statues) offered to PM Modi last year in Washington was worth over INR 100 crore. So we're really talking about billions of dollars of trade," he told Connected to India.
The US Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement has seized more than 2,600 artefacts from storage locations rented throughout New York but many other valuable antiquities were removed and hidden by Kapoor’s family members and their whereabouts remain unknown, according to the complaint. 36 stolen items worth approximately USD 36 million are still missing.
Some of the still-missing works from India include a bronze sculpture of Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) valued at USD 5 million, a grey schist statue of Garuda Seizing a Nagini, valued at USD 650,000, and a bronze statue of a Standing Jina valued at USD 750,000.
Amateur art sleuth and member of the India Pride Project S Vijay Kumar said such smuggling networks "have been getting more brazen with the high sums involved these days. First were the days of the diplomatic pouch, later it moved to getting fakes made, procuring export licences and switching the originals during export. Nowadays, with blatant corruption and lack of experts within the system, container-loads go out with just a wrong declaration."