Immigration and customs authorities in New York City have seized over $20 million worth of antiques stolen from Indian temples and hawked to major U.S. museums, from a Manhattan gallery run by an Indian, Subhash Chandra Kapoor (63).
Mr. Kapoor, who is currently in prison in Chennai following his arrest in Germany in October after Interpol issued a ‘Red Corner’ notice for smuggling, was also slapped with an arrest warrant by U.S. authorities for possession of stolen property.
According to a statement by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) group, agents on Thursday seized three Chola period bronzes, which were “suspected of having been stolen directly from temples in the Tamil Nadu region of India.”
These bronze statues include a sculpture, depicting Parvati, from the Chola period, valued at nearly $2.5 million; a sculpture depicting Sivagami Amman, said to also be worth over $2.5; and a sculpture depicting Murugan, reportedly worth over $3.5 million. All three pieces are visible on the Tamil Nadu police website and on the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database, officials said.
Responding to a query from The Hindu on the current status of the seized items and whether they would be returned to India, a representative of HSI said that the antiques have been moved to a government facility where they will be preserved.
“This case is still under investigation — once the agents and prosecutors determine the rightful owners of these artefacts, ICE will repatriate the items to its rightful owners,” the official said, noting that HSI special agents were still itemising the artefacts seized.
In addition HSI special agents also seized a sandstone statue depicting Kubera, the chief of the Yakshas, from the Indian Gupta period; a grey schist statue depicting Herkules-Vajrapani from the Kandahran Kushan period; and a sculpture depicting Shakyamuni Buddham from the Indian Chola period.
Following a tip from the Indian Consulate in February 2007 HSI special agents had already seized, by the end of January 2012, “dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $10 million.”
The Consulate had advised HSI that an import-export company was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as “Marble Garden Table Sets.” The Consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities, the HSI said.
The antiquities seized earlier this year based on that tip included a five-foot-tall head of a Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds and a life-sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds. Both items were seized from a storage unit allegedly leased by Mr. Kapoor in New York, HSI officials noted.
James Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York, commented on the latest seizures, saying, “The statues and sculptures recovered today are worth millions in the antiquities business, but they are priceless to the nations that they were robbed from.”