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Officials Seize $20 Million Allegedly Looted Indian Artifacts – Other Looted Works May Now Be In Museums

July 29, 2012

An agent with one of the Asian artifacts seized by federal authorities at a Manhattan storage unit Thursday.

The case of Subhash Kapoor, an art dealer suspected of selling looted ancient Indian artifacts through his New York-based Art of the Past gallery, has gotten more complicated.  The Indian-born Kapoor was recently extradited from Germany and is facing charges of looting Indian temples.  Now, US officials have seized an estimated $20 million worth of artifacts Kappor kept in a Manhattan storage unit.  According to the New York Times:

Among the items seized from a Manhattan storage unit was a bronze sculpture dating from the Chola Period, which ran from the late 9th century to the 13th century. Authorities valued the statue at nearly $2.5 million and said it was among several items that had been stolen from temples in India.

Authorities said the investigation began in 2007 based on a tip from Indian authorities. Some of the artifacts seized Thursday had been previously displayed in major museums, they said, and in some cases, they said, Mr. Kapoor had created false provenances to disguise the fact that they were stolen.

Chandra Kapoor

In a follow-up story, the Times reported that federal officials are now asking museums including the ” the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif.; and the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington” to which Kapoor sold or donated works to take a closer look at the provenance of the works:

A spokesman for the Met, Harold Holzer, said it had 81 pieces that had either beendonated by or purchased from Mr. Kapoor, starting in 1991, including several antiquities that are on display. But the bulk of the donations were a set of drawings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that Mr. Kapoor gave to the museum in 2008 and were the subject of an exhibition in 2009, “Living Line: Selected Indian Drawings From the Subhash Kapoor Gift.”

Mr. Holzer said federal authorities had not made an official request of the museum and that no special review of the Kapoor items was planned, especially since so many of the recent donations were drawings, not antiquities. “They do not appear to be the type of items that they are worried about,” he said.

He also noted that the museum had for years posted all of the items it owns on its Web site, a practice that enables anyone to review, and dispute, the provenance that is listed. In the case of most of the Kapoor items, the only listed provenance is the date when Mr. Kapoor donated them.

One of the statues on display at Chandra Kapoor’s “Art of the Past” gallery on Madison Avenue.

The New York Post adds the following:

Cops there claim Kapoor is the “kingpin” of an “international racket” of antiquities smugglers who in 2005 enlisted Chennai-based art dealer Sanjivi Asokan to steal valuable metal idols from India’s Chola Era.

Three Chola Era bronze sculptures suspected of being stolen from Tamil Nadu temples were recovered in yesterday’s Upper West Side raid.

Tamil Nadu cops also claim Kapoor smuggled Buddhist artifacts out of Afghanistan and other valuable antiquities out of Pakistan. A source told The Post that many of the items — after being stolen — were shipped to Hong Kong, and then to Kapoor in New York.

He allegedly used his Madison Avenue gallery, Art of the Past, and a corporation called Nimbus Import Export as part of the smuggling operation.

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