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South Asia: Looted Indian statue recovered
A stolen bronze Indian religious relic worth an estimated $1 million was recovered Wednesday by federal customs agents as part of a continuing investigation into a former New York-based art dealer.

Looted Indian statue recovered
The item recovered this week is a Chola-period bronze representing
 a Tamil poet  and saint that dates to the 11th or 12th centuries
[Credit: John Taggart/The Wall Street Journal

The dealer, Subhash Kapoor, is now awaiting trial in India for allegedly looting artifacts worth tens of millions of dollars.

Mr. Kapoor operated a now-defunct gallery on the Upper East Side called Art of the Past. Prosecutors allege that between 1995 and 2012 he illegally imported and sold stolen antiquities from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, often using forged documents to pass the items off as legitimate.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit and the Manhattan district attorney’s office have together recovered more than 2,500 artifacts worth more than $100 million from the gallery and storage facilities in and around New York City.

Kenneth J. Kaplan, a lawyer in New York representing Mr. Kapoor, declined to comment Wednesday, but said his client had asserted his innocence both to him and to his counsel in India. Mr. Kapoor has not yet entered a plea in India, according to a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

The item recovered this week is a Chola-period bronze representing a Tamil poet and saint that dates to the 11th or 12th centuries, according to Brenton Easter, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations. The statue, which stands nearly two feet tall and weighs more than 80 pounds, was allegedly looted about a decade ago from a temple in a village in the southeastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The theft of the figure was “completely devastating” to the villagers, Mr. Easter said on Wednesday afternoon, as he stood by the open door of the van containing the relic parked on East 91st Street near Park Avenue. The item was smuggled into the U.S. labeled as a handicraft, and then offered for sale at Mr. Kapoor’s gallery on Madison Avenue.

In recent months some institutions that purchased objects from Mr. Kapoor have surrendered the items to Homeland Security Investigations. They include the Honolulu Museum of Art and the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.

In a statement, Honolulu Museum Director Stephan Jost said in April that “clearly the museum could have done better” with its past vetting of objects. Dan L. Monroe, the Peabody Essex Museum director, said in a statement that month that the institution has undertaken “a rigorous internal assessment of its collection and is working in full cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.”

This time around, the stolen object was voluntarily surrendered by an anonymous collector who had been contacted by investigators about the piece. Officials said the buyer was considered a victim because the statue was accompanied by a false provenance, or ownership history, that predated its theft.

“We commend this collector for his conscious decision to return this stolen idol,” said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. “We hope that other collectors, institutions and museums will continue to partner with HSI, and to see this surrender as a successful way to move forward when dealing with artifacts that might be of concern.”

The agency has recovered at least six other sacred Chola bronzes that it anticipates repatriating to the Indian government.

In April, the Manhattan district attorney’s office filed papers in New York State Supreme Court seeking the forfeiture of 2,622 items seized from the gallery and storage units in Manhattan, Queens and Long Island. The items were worth $107 million, according to the summons. Among them: a statue from India valued at $15 million, a large bronze statue from Cambodia or Thailand worth $5 million and a large standing Buddha from North India estimated at $7.5 million.

According to the April summons, Mr. Kapoor and his gallery manager, Aaron Freedman, “engaged in a common plan and scheme to illegally obtain and sell stolen items of art and conceal or disguise the nature, source and ownership of the illegally obtained property.”

Mr. Freedman pleaded guilty in December 2013 to five counts of criminal possession of stolen property and one count of conspiracy, according to the summons. Prosecutors said the antiquities were forfeitable from Mr. Kapoor and his gallery as proceeds and/or instrumentalities of crime.

Author: Jennifer Smith | Source: The Wall Street Journal [July 03, 2015]

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South Asia: Looted Indian statue recovered + USA