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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
12/05/2012

HSI seizes statues allegedly linked to Subhash Kapoor, valued at $5 million

HSI seizes statues allegedly linked to Subhash Kapoor, valued at $5 million
HSI seizes statues allegedly linked to Subhash Kapoor, valued at $5 million
HSI seizes statues allegedly linked to Subhash Kapoor, valued at $5 million
NEW YORK – Today, special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seized a 14th century A.D. bronze Parvati statue and four bronze Tamil Nadu figures, estimated as a group to be worth more than $5 million. These statues were seized as part of an HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation titled "Operation Hidden Idol." The seizure is a direct result of international cooperation with the government of India, Interpol and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

HSI special agents seized the Parvati at the Port of Newark, with the assistance of CBP, for violations of 19 USC 1595a (Inadmissible Goods, Stolen Property). This sculpture is the cultural property of India and is one of many items stolen from temples in the Tamil Nadu region and allegedly sold by Subhash Kapoor. Even though the statue had been placed on the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database, the Parvati had passed through the hands of six different dealers and been given multiple layers of false provenance over the past six years. The statue had been in Europe and had been aggressively pursued along each step of its journey by HSI New York. This is the fifth bronze Chola statue allegedly stolen and sold by Kapoor that has been recovered by HSI in the past year.

The Parvati is considered the goddess of love and devotion, and is an important Hindu deity. In this depiction she sits on a large lotus throne, her raised right hand originally holding a water lily, a symbol of grace and beauty.

"Subhash Kapoor's alleged smuggling of cultural artifacts worth more than an estimated $100 million makes him one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world today. We urge the art community to help us identify artifacts sold or donated by Subhash Kapoor so that we can ensure their legitimacy," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the government of India to bring Mr. Kapoor to justice and return the artifacts in question to their rightful owners. HSI understands full-well that for many nations there is no price tag when it comes to their national treasures."

"We would like to express our deep sense of appreciation to ICE/HSI, for the outstanding work done in retrieving and recovering the priceless antiquities illegally brought into the United States by smuggling syndicates," said the Honorable Prabhu Dayal, consul general, Consulate General of India, New York. These seizures also demonstrate and vindicate the growing cooperation between ICE and relevant agencies of the Indian government in tackling issues of mutual concern."

"U. S. Customs and Border Protection is extremely proud to have played an important role in the seizing of this bronze Parvati that was stolen from the people of India," said Robert E. Perez, Director New York Field Operations. "CBP, working with Homeland Security Investigations, Interpol, and Indian authorities continues to demonstrate its resolve of law enforcement in the United States to address illegal trafficking in stolen artifacts."

"The combined efforts of the dedicated employees at ICE/HSI, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, and Interpol Washington have once again provided reassurance to other nations that transnational crimes of this nature can be combatted. One of Interpol's primary purposes is to connect police all around the world through utilizing special operations like 'Operation Hidden Idol' to seize significant historical properties such as the Parvati," said Shawn Bray, director of INTERPOL Washington. "I am extremely proud of the level of collaboration during this four-year-long case."

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.

By the end of July 2012, HSI special agents had seized dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $100 million. Notable items seized include:

  • One five foot tall head of 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 2nd century B.C. Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at nearly $18 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. On July 14, Kapoor was extradited to India, 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 73 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 provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Since 2007, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscript from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations.

Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.