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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
10/24/2012

HSI seizes additional stolen statues linked to Manhattan art dealer

NEW YORK – Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized two antique statues Oct. 23 from a Manhattan hotel. These statues were seized as part of an ongoing HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation into an alleged dealer of stolen antiquities.

"We recognize that art and antiquities are assigned a dollar value in the marketplace," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "But the cultural and symbolic worth of these items far surpasses any monetary value to the people and nations of the origin of these works. HSI remains a committed partner in the effort to ensure that items like these are returned to their rightful owners."

HSI special agents executed a search warrant Oct. 23 issued for a hotel located in Manhattan. The hotel was allegedly lent these statues by Art of the Past gallery, which is owned by Subhash Kapoor. In July, an arrest warrant for Kapoor was issued by the Manhattan Criminal Court on charges he possessed stolen property.

The statues seized include:

  • A grey schist bust of a Bodhisattva from Gandhara, from the second to third century A.D.: and
  • A white sandstone sculpture depicting a Ganesha from India, from the 10th century A.D.

The total value of seizure is estimated at $1.7 million.

In February 2007, the Indian consulate contacted HSI requesting assistance in the investigation of the potential smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York. The Indian consulate advised HSI that an import and 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. This merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

As a result of this investigation, HSI special agents in New York have seized over 100 antiquities with an estimated value of $75 million. Notable items seized include:

  • One five foot tall head of a Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds;
  • One life sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds;
  • A bronze sculpture, depicting Uma Parvati, valued at nearly $2.5 million; and
  • A second century B.C. Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at nearly $15 million.

This investigation has uncovered that Kapoor allegedly created false provenances to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities. Investigators urge collectors and museums to further scrutinize their collections and contact HSI with any additional information. HSI will aggressively pursue the illicit pieces not yet recovered.

Kapoor, who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. Kapoor was extradited to India July 2012, where he faced criminal charges.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 72 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

HSI specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies on investigating crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

This seizure highlights the critical assistance Interpol provides in international cases. The Manhattan District Attorney Office, under the leadership of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., is prosecuting the case. The office has been instrumental in furthering these complex investigations.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 23 countries.