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Feds urge caution after seizure of Indian artifacts

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 7:28 PM EDT, Fri July 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Federal investigators are urging collectors and museums in the United States
  • A New York dealer was accused this week of stealing $20 million worth artifacts from India
  • The items are believed to have been looted from temples in the Tamil Nadu region of India

(CNN) -- Federal investigators are urging collectors and museums in the United States to scrutinize their stock for stolen antiquities, particular those acquired from a New York dealer accused this week of stealing $20 million worth artifacts from India.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office issued an arrest warrant for Subhash Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who was already under arrest in India, for allegedly possessing stolen artifacts, including several sandstone and bronze statues.

The items are believed to have been looted from temples in the Tamil Nadu region of India, according to a Thursday statement from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Federal investigators said Thursday that they searched Manhattan storage units allegedly leased by Kapoor and uncovered items "displayed in major international museums worldwide" and others that matched pieces listed as stolen.

"The statues and sculptures recovered today are worth millions in the antiquities business, but they are priceless to the nations that they were robbed from," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

Kapoor was arrested at Frankfort, Germany, and extradited to India on July 14 where he faces criminal charges. His attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

In February 2007, the Indian consulate reached out to federal authorities over concerns about the smuggling Indian antiquities into New York, official say.

India's 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act prohibits the removal of artifacts older than 100 years from the country.

By late January, U.S. federal agents had seized dozens of antiquities worth millions of dollars believed to have been stolen from the region, including a five-foot-tall Buddha head and a "life-sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds," ICE reported.

The agency boasts that since 2007, it has "repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 23 countries."

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