Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 13 Antiquities to Thailand

April 22, 2021

Pictured (from left to right): Bronze Standing Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, circa 14th Century C.E., and a finely carved Ayutthaya Buddha Shakyamuni Bronze, circa 16th Century C.E.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 13 antiquities valued at approximately $500,000 to the people of Thailand during a repatriation ceremony attended by Thai Ambassador to the United States, Manasvi Srisodapol and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Erik Rosenblatt.

“The marauding of ancient relics symbolizing faith, hope, and peace, for individual profit is a grievous assault on the cultural past, present, and future of the nations that hold these treasures dear,” said District Attorney Vance. “I am honored to return these 13 breathtaking artifacts to the people of Thailand — our first such collaboration with this proud and beautiful nation. Today’s repatriation marks the latest in a series of such events over the past month to return items from the illicit collection of Subhash Kapoor to their rightful owners in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Thailand. I want to thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their tireless efforts to return culturally significant items to their rightful owners, and I look forward to more such celebratory repatriation ceremonies in the near future.”

“As HSI is the frontline of investigating the international underworld of antiquities trafficking, we are excited to return these pieces of Thai heritage to their home country,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York.  “We remain committed to combating cultural heritage crimes, which are one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border illicit activity. HSI New York will continue to work with our domestic and international partners to investigate and seize illicitly acquired national treasures, and dismantle the criminal organizations fueled by the proceeds of this crime.”

“Let me recognize the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Homeland Security Investigations for your vigilance and concerted efforts to seize and return cultural artifacts to their countries of origin,” said Ambassador Srisodapol. “These antiquities represent ‘national treasures’ rooted in the unique history and cultural expressions of a nation and its people that cannot be quantified in monetary terms.” 

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.

The items repatriated to Thailand today included a Bronze Standing Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, circa 14th Century C.E, and a finely carved Ayutthaya Buddha Shakyamuni Bronze, circa 16th Century C.E.

As of today’s ceremony, the D.A.’s Office has returned 351 antiquities to eight nations since August 2020, including, in recent weeks, three objects to Nepal, a pair of statutes to Sri Lanka, 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 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 to664 B.C.E, 45 antiquities dating back to the 2ndCentury 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 Apsara Iyer and Mallory O’Donoghue and Special Agents Brenton Easter and John Paul Labbat.

District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and Ambassador Srisodapol for their assistance with the matter.