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Antiques Dealer Extradited to India – Faces Charges of Antiquities Smuggling – Updated

July 18, 2012

Photograph from The Hindu.

A major case involving antiquities smuggling is grabbing headlines in India. According to The Hindu:

When antique dealer Subhash Chandra Kapoor, 61, arrested in Germany and extradited to India for his alleged role in spiriting away 18 temple idols from Tamil Nadu, was produced before the Ariyalur court on Saturday, it marked the second most sensational development of its kind in the country. It also pointed once again to the inscrutable ways of the idol-smugglers and their ruthlessly creative potential.

The trail of the biggest such racket revealed so far was traced back to Jaipur. In July 2003, after a year-long surveillance, the police arrested Vaman Narayan Ghiya, the owner of a handicrafts shop in the Rajastan capital. His shop was only a front; in reality it was a hub of illicit trading in antiquities.

The New Yorker, in a story on Ghiya in May 2007, described how 348 sculptures, a dismantled Mughal pavilion and antiquities of all kinds were recovered from his shop.

Smuggling antiquities is a theoretical impossibility. All ancient art objects including privately owned ones must be registered with an appropriate authority. Their export is banned. Any newly made artefact that resembles an antiquity must be certified by the archaeological authorities as being so and declared as not historically valuable before they can be taken out of the country. Customs authorities are to check for all art objects that are carried in person or shipped.

However, looking at the regular appearance of Indian antiquities on the stolen list of Interpol, it is clear that the preventive net has gaping holes and that the system is not really working.

Photograph from The Hindu.

Police sources say that smugglers from Tamil Nadu typically invest less and sell big. They would not use large containers to transport a few stolen sculptures. Instead, they would make replicas of stolen idols, forge signatures of stapathis or traditional sculptors who have their workshops with proper addresses, declaring that the sculptures were cast in their ateliers. The certifying authorities are often unable to make out the difference and thus many stolen idols slip through.

Selling a stolen artefact is not easy in the international art market. Increasingly, wealthy buyers demand to know the provenance of antiquities. To circumvent this, smugglers would first ship illicit antiquities to friendly art houses and galleries in cities such as Zurich and Hong Kong, or use their own network of offices. The stolen objects would then reach auction houses in London or New York with newly acquired addresses.

India Today, which was among the earliest to elaborately expose Ghiya’s illegitimate operations, in June 2003 described how 34 catalogues each of Sotheby’s and Christie’s on Indian and South-East Asian art, along with stolen material, were found in his shop. Ghiya identified 700 artefacts which figured in the catalogues.

UPDATE: According to The Times of India, Kapoor’s ex-girlfriend provided Interpol with key evidence that led to Kapoor’s arrest and extradition.

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