Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 104 Antiquities to Pakistan

August 24, 2021

Pictured (from left to right): Stucco Bodhisattva, Gilded Schist Head of Bodhisattva, and Schist Reliquary Casket.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 104 antiquities valued at an estimated $3.3 million to the people of Pakistan during a repatriation ceremony attended by Islamic Republic of Pakistan Consul General Ayesha Ali and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Acting Deputy Special Agent in Charge Stephen Lee.

“This magnificent collection of artifacts returned to the people of Pakistan today epitomizes that nation’s rich cultural heritage and humanity’s never-ending quest for enlightenment and peace,” said District Attorney Vance. “It also evinces the importance of all collectors and gallery owners performing due diligence and ensuring all pieces they purchased were lawfully acquired. I want to thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their sterling efforts that have resulted in almost 500 treasures, including nearly 150 to Pakistan, being returned to 11 countries over the past year. I look forward to further repatriations in the near future.” 

“With every repatriation there is a new joy and satisfaction that goes with returning a piece of history to its home country,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York. “Each pilfered artifact tells its own story, as each line or scratch retells its journey and with this being the final chapter – going home. HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities group was able close the chapter on 104 pieces today, and with our partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, can provide some closure to the people of Pakistan.”

“I want to express my gratitude to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security for their efforts in retrieving these stolen cultural treasures of Pakistan,” said Pakistan’s Consul General Ayesha Ali. “Hopefully soon these artifacts will be displayed in Pakistani museums.”

The 104 items returned today were seized pursuant to the investigation of SUBHASH KAPOOR.

For many years, the Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at HSI, investigated KAPOOR and his co-conspirators for the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, and other nations. KAPOOR and his co-defendants generally smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through KAPOOR’S Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2020, the D.A.’s Office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by KAPOOR and his network. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.

The D.A.’s Office first issued an arrest warrant for KAPOOR in 2012. In October 2019, KAPOOR and his seven co-defendants were indicted for their criminal conspiracy. In July 2020, the DA’s Office filed extradition paperwork for KAPOOR, who is currently in prison in India pending the completion of his ongoing trial in Tamil Nadu.

The items repatriated to Pakistan today included a schist reliquary casket, circa 3rd-4th century, valued at $175,000, a gilded schist head of a Bodhisattva, circa 2nd-3rd century, valued at $250,000, and a stucco Bodhisattva, circa 3rd-6th century, valued at $750,000.

As of today’s ceremony, the D.A.’s Office has returned 497 antiquities to 11 nations since August 2020, including, in recent months, 12 treasures to China, 13 artifacts to Thailand, and 33 relics to Afghanistan. Last November, our office repatriated 45 antiquities to Pakistan that were recovered in 2015 from Nayef Homsi, a known trafficker involved in the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and other nations.

Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit

To date, the D.A.’s first-of-its-kind Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $175 million.  Many hundreds of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin, including a total of 497 objects to 11 nations since August 2020. Many hundreds more are ready to be repatriated as soon as the relevant countries are able to receive them amid the pandemic. But more than a thousand must be held awaiting criminal proceedings against the traffickers. The items already returned include a pair of statues of Buddha to Sri Lanka; an Egyptian limestone stele dating back to 664 B.C.E, 45 antiquities dating back to the 2nd Century to Pakistan; a gold coffin stolen from Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011; three marble Lebanese statues; a Roman mosaic excavated from the Ships of Nemi; an Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a marble sarcophagus fragment; a Buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological dig site; a pair of 12th century Indian statues; a collection of 8th Century B.C.E. bronze statues; and a set of ancient Greek coins, among others.

Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, handled the recovery of the artifacts with Investigative Analysts Alyssa Thiel and Apsara Iyer and Special Agents John Paul Labbat and Brenton Easter.

District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and Consul General Ali for their assistance with the matter.