Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 12 Antiquities to China

June 8, 2021

Repatriation Ceremony Follows Recovery of More Than 2,500 Antiquities Pursuant to the Investigation of Subhash Kapoor

Pictured (from left to right): Gilded copper memorial pagoda with a clear crystal and gemstone, and copper statuette embedded with turquoise and red coral stones, featuring a seated figure in repose.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 12 antiquities to the people of China during a repatriation ceremony attended by Consul General of China in New York, Huang Ping and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Lead Case Agent John Paul Labbat.

“Plundering antiquities for individual profit is a crime that transcends time, culture, and borders, as the illicit collection of Subhash Kapoor demonstrates,” said District Attorney Vance. “Today’s repatriation of a dozen majestic relics to China marks the latest this year involving treasures Kapoor allegedly trafficked. I want to thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their indefatigable efforts to return these culturally significant items, in recent months, to the people of China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Thailand. I look forward to celebrating more such victories in the fight to protect global cultural heritage in the near future.”

“The dozen antiquities being returned to China today are treasures that provide clues of ancestral heritage and cultural history,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York.  “HSI will continue to work in close coordination with the Manhattan DA, as well as our domestic and international partners, to investigate and seize national treasures of other countries that find their way into the United States under false pretenses.”

“These items reflect religions practiced by the people in the southwest part of China, as well as their cultural and artistic accomplishments,” said Consul General Ping. “I want to thank the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Homeland Security Investigations for helping retrieve these valuable treasures and return them to China. The work not only enhances our shared values in cherishing cultural heritage, but also raises public awareness of combating illicit trade in archaeological objects.”

For many years, the Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at HSI, has been investigating KAPOOR and his co-conspirators for the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, 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 July 2019, a complaint and series of arrest warrants for KAPOOR and seven co-defendants were filed and an indictment was filed in October 2019. 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.

As of today’s ceremony, the D.A.’s Office has returned 363 antiquities to nine nations since August 2020, including, in recent months, three objects to Nepal, a pair of statutes to Sri Lanka, 13 artifacts to Thailand, and 33 relics to Afghanistan.

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 351 objects to eight nations since August 2020. Many hundreds of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin, including a total of 363 objects to nine nations since August 2020. 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 Analyst Apsara Iyer and Special Agents John Paul Labbat and Brenton Easter.

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