Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns Three Antiquities to Nepal

April 1, 2021

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

Pictured: Wooden Beam Depicting a Colored Apsara, Gold Seated Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra, and Seated Ganesha

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of three antiquities valued at approximately $125,000 to the people of Nepal during a repatriation ceremony attended byActing Consul General of Nepal in New York, Mr. Bishnu Prasad Gautam and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Acting Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Eric Silverman.

“Today’s repatriation of three extraordinary pieces to the people of Nepal marks the latest in our ongoing efforts to repatriate stolen and looted antiquities seized from the illicit collection of Subhash Kapoor,” said District Attorney Vance. “For many years, Mr. Kapoor and his co-conspirators allegedly trafficked thousands of culturally significant artifacts, including a remarkable pair of statues we repatriated to Sri Lanka just last week. Over the past decade, my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations have collaborated to shut down the Kapoor network’s operations, and, in the process, recovered more than 2,500 relics valued at more than $143 million. I look forward to many future repatriation ceremonies to return all of these trafficked and looted pieces to their rightful countries of origin.”

“HSI New York is proud to partner with the Manhattan DA in the return of three artifacts to their home country of Nepal. Each of the pieces being repatriated has a religious and cultural significance to the people of Nepal, and it is there that they belong,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York.  “Our Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit is dedicated to tracking down looted artifacts and investigating those who trafficked them.  Whether it is a Buddha or Ganesha, it is a piece of a country’s history, and HSI New York will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that those artifacts are returned to their homeland.”

“Mr. Vance, you have done excellent work in recovering and returning such stolen artifacts back to their rightful countries, one after another, this time to Nepal,” said Acting Consul General Gautum. “My deep regards for your vision and the dedication of your team which is winning the hearts of millions of people abroad.”

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, 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 D.A’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 returned during today’s ceremony are “Wooden Beam Depicting a Colored Apsara,” dating back to the 13th Century C.E., “Gold Seated Buddha in Bhumisparsa Mudra,” circa 14-15th Century C.E., and ‘Seated Ganesha,” circa 15-16th Century C.E.

Prior to today’s ceremony, the D.A.’s Office has returned six antiquities seized pursuant to the KAPOOR investigation, including a pair of statutes to Sri Lanka.

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. 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 Analyst Apsara Iyer and Special Agents Brenton Easter and John Paul Labbat.

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