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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
07/26/2012

HSI seizes stolen statues from New York storage facility

Stolen statues worth more than $20 million

NEW YORK — Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents seized several sandstone and bronze statues. The statues and other cultural artifacts were seized as part of an HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation. The seizure is a direct result of international cooperation and exemplifies the successful use of Interpol resources and the willingness of local partners at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to pursue these difficult and complex investigations.

HSI special agents executed search warrants issued for storage units located in a facility in Manhattan. The storage units allegedly belong to Subhash Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past Gallery. Along with the search warrant, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor as he possessed stolen property.

HSI special agents seized three Chola period bronzes, which are suspected of having been stolen directly from temples in the Tamil Nadu region of India. These statues include:

  • A bronze sculpture, depicting Uma Parvati, valued at nearly $2.5 million dollars;
  • a bronze sculpture depicting Sivagami Amman; and
  • a bronze sculpture depicting Murugan.

It appears that all three pieces can be seen on the Tamil Nadu police website and on the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database.

HSI special agents also seized the following items:

  • A sandstone statue depicting Kubera, 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.

HSI special agents seized other sculptures and artifacts today. The total value of seizure is estimated at more than $20 million.

Some of the stolen artifacts seized during this investigation have been displayed in major international museums worldwide. Other pieces that match those listed as stolen are still openly on display in some museums.

"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," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "These seizures send a clear message to looters, smugglers and dealers to think twice before trying to profit from illicit cultural property in the United States. HSI has the knowledge and the resources to disrupt their plans to sell these items to the highest bidder."

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 merchandize was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

By the end of January 2012, HSI special agents had seized dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $10 million. Notable items seized include:

  • One five foot tall head of a Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds; and
  • one life sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds.

Both items were also seized from a storage unit allegedly leased by Kapoor in New York.

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, 2012, 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 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. 

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