Many museums accepted false provenance certificates produced by Kapoor

The list of antiquities stolen from India and illicitly sold to museums across the world seems to be growing.

New evidences show that Subhash Chandra Kapoor, U.S. based antiquities dealer extradited to India and currently lodged in Chennai prison, sold a mid 19th century Thanjavur painting depicting Serfoji II and Shivaji II and a gilded 18th century altar showing the Virgin Mary with Christ Child were sold to museums in the U.S. and Singapore using false documents.

The U.S. investigators have also unravelled that Kapoor and his co-conspirators had fabricated provenance letters, origin history and letters of authenticity for selling stolen sculptures and paintings. Many museums, which bought these artefacts from Kapoor had accepted these false provenance certificates — documents that establish the successive ownership — without checking their veracity.

Long time associate

This fact, established for the first time in the investigation, has enhanced the prospect of retrieving these stolen objects. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, in a complaint filed in the Criminal Court of the City of New York City on December 20, charged Selina Mohamed, a long time associate of Kapoor, for possessing and dealing with stolen properties.

It also charged that Kapoor and his co-conspirators including Selina Mohamed manufactured many dozens of false provenance letters.

1000-year-old idol

Using these documents, they sold a 1000-year-old Lakshmi Narayana idol to the National Gallery of Australia for $375,000; an altar with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child to Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore for . $1,35,000 and a Thanjavur painting depicting Serfoji II to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts for $ 35,000.

Apart from these objects, Kapoor also sold a Chola period bronze idol of Ganesha, stone sculptures of Dwarapalakas and a torso of a devata (a demi god) to various museums in a similar fashion.

Museums which had bought these stolen artefacts had hitherto claimed that they followed due diligence before purchasing them and their transactions were legitimate. The recent investigations prove otherwise.

Storage units

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office also charged Selina Mohammed with running three storage units in New York that stored looted antiquities. In 2012 , when the U.S. authorities raided these storage units, they discovered a large number of stolen objects including a stone sculpture form Bharhut Stupa and precious bronze idols Tamil Nadu.

Clever investigation

They were able to find these facts using informants, clever investigation and review of email correspondences between Kapoor, his co-conspirators and gallery owners.

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