Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 248 Antiquities to India


October 28, 2021

Pictured (from left to right): Bronze Nandikesvara, Bronze Shiva Nataraja, and Bronze Kankalamurti. 

 
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 248 antiquities valued at an estimated $15 million to the people of India during a repatriation ceremony attended by India Consul General Randhir Jaiswal and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent in Charge Erik Rosenblatt. 
 
“This extraordinary assemblage of artifacts, recovered from five different criminal investigations over the past decade, embodies the timeless cultural and cosmic bridge between ancient and modern-day India,” said District Attorney Vance. “Today’s event also serves as a potent reminder that individuals who maraud sacred temples in pursuit of individual profit are committing crimes not only against a country’s heritage but also its present and future. I am honored to return these 248 pieces to the people of India – our largest such transfer of antiquities to this proud nation. I thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their assiduous efforts that have resulted in more than 500 treasures being returned to 12 countries since August 2020. I look forward to further repatriations in the near future.”

“Today, we are proud to join the Manhattan DA’s office as we return these artifacts, which are part of India’s rich cultural heritage, back to the people of India. Homeland Security Investigations is committed to combatting the plundering of cultural heritage and the illicit trafficking of cultural property. When items like these are stolen and looted, we are determined to make things right, and ultimately return them home where they belong,” said HSI New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel. “We will continue to collaborate with our law enforcement partners around the world to combat these types of crimes.”
 
“We profusely thank the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for their support and cooperation in the return of antiquities to India,” said India’s Consul General Randhir Jaiswal. “We look forward to our continued engagement to strengthen cultural ties between India and the United States.” 

Among the items returned today, 235 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 Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, 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 conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities. In July 2020, the D.A.’s Office filed extradition paperwork for KAPOOR and his co-defendants. Two of the co-defendants have since been convicted: Richard Salmon in October 2020 and Neil Perry Smith earlier this year. Previously, three others were also convicted: Selina Mohamed (2013), Aaron Freedman (2013), and Sushma Sareen (2014).
 
The remaining items returned today included: 

  • Ten pieces seized from Matreiya, the former gallery of known trafficker Nayef Homsi who was convicted by our Office in 2015. Other items from the same seizure were repatriated to India in August 2020. 
  • A bronze Shiva Nataraja, circa 12th century, valued at $4 million, that was stolen in the 1960s from a temple and smuggled into New York before being sold by Doris Wiener, whose daughter, Nancy Wiener, was convicted by our Office in 2021. The Asia Society, the unwitting recipient of the piece, cooperated fully with the investigation. 
  • A bronze Nandikesvara and bronze Kankalamurti, which were stolen from the Sri Narasinganata Temple in India in May 1985 and resurfaced at separate auctions during this year’s Asia Week. Manhattan-based Bonhams Auction House, the unwitting recipient of the piece, cooperated fully with this investigation. 

As of today’s ceremony, the D.A.’s Office has returned 516 antiquities to 12 nations since August 2020, including, in recent months, 27 relics to Cambodia33 treasures to Afghanistan, and 104 artifacts to Pakistan. During the past two months, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit also repatriated 16 pieces associated with the infamous Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés to Mexico. This collection of priceless 16th Century manuscripts – including letters, royal decrees, and other legal documents – was stolen from Mexico’s National Archive and later appeared at numerous galleries and auction houses in the same year. New York-based Swann Gallery and Bonhams Auction House, the unwitting recipients of the stolen manuscripts, cooperated fully with this investigation. 
 
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. More than 1,300 of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin, including a total of 516 objects to 12 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 District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, handled the recovery of the artifacts with Investigative Analysts Apsara Iyer, Alyssa Thiel, and Mallory O’Donoghue, and Special Agents John Paul Labbat, Christopher Rommeney, Brenton Easter, Robert Mancene, and Megan Buckley. The HSI-New Delhi Attache’s Office, Abhay Kumar Singh, ADGP Tamil Nadu Police Idol Wing, and the French Pondicherry Institute assisted in the criminal investigations.  
 
District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and Consul General Jaiswal for their assistance with the matter.