The cascading effects of the Subhash Kapoor arrest continue as Federal agents in cooperation with the Manhattan DA seized two purpotedly smuggled Indian antiquities at Christie’s. A Christie’s representative was quick to point out that the claims against the works have not been registered in any database that would have allowed the auction house to vet the claims.
Indeed, the New York Times offers this crucial piece of information on the case:
The federal agents, working with prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, were assisted in their effort by an informant who had previously pleaded guilty to possessing stolen property and is now helping investigators track the looted items, the affidavit said.
A press release from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement service gives greater detail on the works and the enforcement action that surrounds them:
- A Buff Sandstone Stele of Rishabhanata, from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, India, in the 10th century A.D, approximately 22 3/8 inches high, and depicting a stele carved with the first Jain Tirthankara (a teacher who preaches dharma) seated in vajrasana (crossed leg pose) and flanked by a pair of standing attendants, and valued at approximately $150,000.
- A Buff Sandstone Panel Depicting Revanta and His Entourage, from India, in the 8th Century A.D., approximately 30 by 53 inches, depicting a very rare representation of the equestrian deity, Revanta, a figure of great importance in Hinduism, and valued at approximately $300,000.
“This seizure at the beginning of an international event as well recognized as Asia Week New York sends two important messages: First and foremost, it demonstrates that we are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world and second, it demonstrates that we are monitoring the market to protect prospective buyers as well,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York.
HSI special agents were able to determine that both of these artifacts had come from a specific smuggler and supplier of illicit cultural property in India. HSI special agents have tracked many false provenances and this has been one of the pillars of Operation Hidden Idol. This methodology of back-tracking an artifact has led to numerous recoveries.
Over the past four years, the Manhattan DA’s Office and HSI New York have partnered on Operation Hidden Idol, focusing on activities surrounding the illicit cultural property trade in New York. The investigation has also identified Subhash Kapoor, who is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations. The trails of looted artifacts have been traced all around the world. Within the past twelve months, four domestic museums and one major collector have partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor. To date, HSI special agents, in conjunction with the Manhattan DA’s Office, have netted in excess of 2,500 artifacts worth over an estimated $100,000,000.00. These artifacts stem from countries all around the world. Additionally, four individuals have been arrested in the U.S. for their role in the scheme.
Federal Agents Raid Christie’s, Seizing 2 Ancient Sculptures (The New York Times)
ICE recovers stolen Indian artifacts from major auction house ahead of Asia Week New York (ICE)