The U.S. authorities formally handed over 307 antiquities, estimated to be worth nearly $4 million to Indian officials on Monday. These were recovered from international smuggler Subash Kapoor’s art gallery, other art galleries as well as multiple trafficking networks.
As many as 235 of the antiquities were seized pursuant to an investigation against Subash Kapoor, who helped traffic items from India and other countries. Five others were seized from a person, Nancy Wiener, in New York and one pursuant to an investigation against another person, Nayef Homsi. The remaining 66 antiquities were stolen from India by multiple smaller trafficking networks.
All the antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony on Monday evening at the Indian Consulate in New York attended by India’s Consul General Randir Jaiswal, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Acting Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge, Tom Lau.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg said in a statement, “We are proud to return hundreds of stunning pieces back to the people of India. These antiquities were stolen by multiple complex and sophisticated trafficking rings – the leaders of which showed no regard for the cultural or historical significance of these objects.”
“This repatriation is the result of a globe spanning, fifteen-year investigation where the investigative team chased leads, followed the money and ultimately seized these pieces, ensuring their return to the people of India,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Michael Alfonso.
For over a decade, the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at Homeland Security Investigations, have investigated Kapoor and his co-conspirators for the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of artefacts from numerous countries all over the world. Kapoor and his co-defendants generally smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through Kapoor’s Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2022, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and his network. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.
In July 2020, the U.S. authority filed extradition papers for Kapoor who is in prison in Tiruchi, since 2012, pending the completion of his ongoing trial.
S. Vijaya Kumar, an art enthusiast and co-founder of India Pride said Monday’s restitution is a classic example of how law enforcement should work hand-in-hand to build prosecution cases to bring down the antiquities trafficking networks. “We are happy to see this historic restitution of 307 cultural objects to India including those seized from dealers Subhash Kapoor, Wiener galleries, Nayef Homsi and those linked to prestigious Yale University museum, Denver museum. The Manhattan DA office has also been able to convince many good faith purchasers to turn over suspect artefacts which is a very heartening trend with people coming forward to correct historical wrongs.”
One of the antiquities being returned from Nancy Wiener are the idols of Vishnu and Lakshmi with Garuda, dating to the 11th century C.E., which was allegedly stolen from a temple in Central India. A Chola-era Sambandar bronze idol, a Chola-era Devi idol in stone, bronze idols of Vinayaga, Narasimha with Lakshmi, a wooden idol of Muruga and wooden chauri bearers are other items that had been taken from Tamil Nadu.