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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Indian court sentences US antiquities smuggler Subhash Kapoor to 10 years in prison

A disgraced American antiquities dealer accused of running a multimillion-dollar looting ring through his New York gallery was sentenced to 10 years in prison by an Indian court this week for smuggling.

Subhash Kapoor was convicted along with five accomplices on charges including criminal conspiracy, burglary, and illegal export of 19 artifacts worth over 940 million rupees ($11.4 million), a police spokesman confirmed.

The verdict follows a multi-year investigation into Kapoor, who is accused of trafficking thousands of treasures looted from temples, ruins, and archaeological sites across Asia. An Indian American dealer’s racketeering ring is believed to have forged authentication documents for ancient artifacts before selling them through his Manhattan gallery, Art of the Past.

After his arrest in Germany in 2011, Kapoor was sent to face the charges in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where his trial began last year.


Although the dealer has already spent 11 years in prison, he will not be released after the sentencing as he was also indicted in the US on charges including grand theft, conspiracy, fraud, and possession of the stolen property.

In an investigation dubbed “Operation Hidden Idol,” the Manhattan District of the State’s Antiquities Unit — a task force of lawyers, investigators, and art experts — seized more than 2,500 looted artifacts, worth an estimated $143 million, linked to Kapoor.

As well as the 19 items he has been convicted of smuggling, the businessman has also been accused of handling thousands of other items from countries including Nepal, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

In an emailed statement, Manhattan District Attorney’s spokesman Alvin Bragg told CNN that his office is in contact with the US Department of Justice and Indian authorities about the case. “In 2020, the agency filed extradition papers for Kapoor and we intend to prosecute him in the United States based on our ongoing investigation,” the spokeswoman added.


Kapoor’s lawyer Georges Lederman confirmed in New York that the dealer would remain in custody in India pending the extradition request. Lederman told CNN last year that his client intends to challenge the US charges on the grounds that “the underlying conduct he is accused of in New York is the same for which he has already served (time) in India.”

Institutions in the US and abroad have already repatriated hundreds of stolen items Kapoor dealt with. Just last month, Bragg’s office gave India 235 items associated with the seller, including an intricately carved marble arch that ended up in the Yale University Art Gallery collection.

In 2016, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.S. officials returned to India more than 200 artifacts that had been seized from a shipment imported by the Kapoor company. The cache, which contained religious sculptures and bronze and terracotta works, was estimated at the time to be worth more than $100 million.

The Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra have also returned objects acquired from Kapoor’s gallery on several occasions.


In 2014, then-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott personally handed over the two 900-year-old statues after India directly called for their repatriation.
Top image: Subhash Kapoor being escorted by police to a court in Tamil Nadu, India in July 2015.

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