Subhash Kapoor, a former New York art dealer who is described by the authorities as one of the world's most prolific smugglers of antiquities, has been charged on Monday with running a US$145m artefacts smuggling ring. Kapoor has pleaded not guilty after having been awaiting trial in India for almost eight years.
Kapoor was arrested in Germany in 2011 and is in jail in India
Investigators stated that many artefacts were stolen from remote tempes in India
According to the authorities, Kapoor's multinational smuggling ring has harvested some 2,600 objects from Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Thailand over the last three decades. The ring created false paper trails for the artefacts and often lent them to museums briefly to prove the items' legitimacy. They then sold them globally for large profits to collectors, art dealers and museums.
Subhash Kapoor was once a prominent gallery owner in New York
While most of the stolen objects have been recovered from storage locations Kapoor controlled in Manhattan and Queens, officials revealed that 39 looted antiquities that valued at US$36m are still missing. Even after his arrest in Germany in 2011, he was still able to instruct his employees to pass on the most valuable items to his family members and move them to secret locations.
Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with then US attorney general Loretta E Lynch at a ceremony in 2016 for the return of temple idols stolen and smuggled from India
Before his arrest, Kapoor was a successful art dealer who owned a gallery at 1242 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. His illegal deeds were first revealed by his ex-girlfriend Grace Paramaspry Punusamy who wanted to take revenge due to their bitter breakup.
A figure of the goddess Uma Parameshvari taken from a temple in 2005 and smuggled via Hong Kong to London
In 2009, the Brooklyn Museum purchased a Chola-era Shiva (now returned to India) and announced its arrival on its website. Writing under the name Grace Paramaspry, Punusamy started posting messages on the website, questioning the provenance of the figure. Her comments caught the attention of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and led to the investigation of Kapoor and his team.
Stolen artworks being examined after being handed over by museums
Investigators said buyers included many museums around the world, among them the Toledo Museum in Ohio, the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii, Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum and the National Gallery of Australia. For now, the returned smuggled objects are being held in secure storage by both federal and local investigators.