Manhattan DA files criminal complaint for trafficking in antiquities

Eight individuals, including Subhash Kapoor who achieved notoriety on allegations of antiques trafficking, were charged in a Manhattan court last week in connection with the looting and trafficking of antiquities, a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office revealed.

Mr. Kapoor is allegedly the ring leader of a network that trafficked in thousands of antiquities from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia, as per the complaint filed by prosecuting attorneys Matthew Bogdanos and Christopher Hirsch, both Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys. Mr. Kapoor, 70, is currently in jail in Tamil Nadu, as he awaits trial on similar charges. He was arrested in Germany in 2011 and extradited to India thereafter.

Loot of over two decades

The idol and antiques trafficking occurred over a period of at least two decades from 1986, when Mr. Kapoor’s company Art of the Past was incorporated, to October 26, 2016 when it was dissolved. The total value of the antiques stolen exceeded $14,35,17,000 (about ₹988 crore, the court documents revealed.

In addition to Mr. Kapoor, individuals named in the complaint are Sanjeev Asokan, Dean Dayal, Ranjeet Kanwar, Aditya Prakash, Vallabh Prakash, Richard Salmon and Neil Perry Smith. The charges brought against these individuals include knowingly possessing stolen property in excess of $1,000,000 with the intent to benefit a person other than the owner and to impede recovery of said property by the owner.

‘False legitimacy’

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI investigation, led to the seizure of over 2,600 antiques, documents and computers related to Subhash Kapoor’s and his employees’ business dealings for Art of the Past.

The complaint said that Mr. Kapoor loaned antiquities to major museums and institutions, thereby creating a false veneer of legitimacy, describing the laundering process as “the creation of a false history of an antiquity – generally through forged invoices and letters – attempts to cleanse an antiquity of its illegal past”.

“There is absolutely no doubt that Subhash Kapoor and his accomplices have wreaked havoc on our historical sites and temples. They helped create an obnoxious market for antiquities and hurt us very badly,” India’s Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty, told The Hindu.

“The happy part of this story is the extraordinary cooperation we received from the Americans and the authorities in India and several police departments. I have worked personally with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office and he came to the Consulate not long ago and handed over two extraordinarily valuable pieces. As a result of the cooperation several trafficked antiquities have been returned to India and some more are in the pipeline. The indictment is a very positive step and will discourage other traffickers,” Mr. Chakravorty said.

Faces 86 counts

Mr. Kapoor faces 86 counts, including grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and scheme to defraud in the first degree.

“The case filing by the U.S. law enforcement is a lesson for our own law enforcement on how meticulous an investigation should be conducted. Sadly, it’s precisely this lack of qualified work both on the technical support from theArchaeological Survey of India and even support from a legal standpoint that has allowed looters to escape from the clutches of the law despite the thousands of idols he sold,” said S. Vijay Kumar, a Singapore-based art enthusiast and co-founder of the India Pride Project.

“Further this filing exposes the dark underbelly of the art world using Hong Kong as an important transit point and also the criminal nexus between professional restorers in London and America.” (With inputs from R. Sivaraman in Chennai