United States authorities have returned to India about 250 antiquities, with an estimated value of $15 million, after a long investigation recovered the stolen treasures, the Associated Press reported.
A ceremony took place Thursday to return the antiquities at the Indian Consulate in New York City, and was put on by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The investigation focused on tens of thousands of antiquities allegedly smuggled into the United States by Subhash Kapoor, a dealer who has denied the allegations. The centerpiece of the event was a bronze Shiva Nataraja valued at $4 million, authorities said.
Authorities said Kapoor used his Arts of the Past gallery in New York to traffic stolen art from India and various countries in Southeast Asia. So far, 2,500 stolen artifacts have been recovered, valued at $143 million. Kapoor is in jail in India and is facing charges, and six co-conspirators have been convicted.
The case “serves as a potent reminder that individuals who maraud sacred temples in pursuit of individual profit are committing crimes not only against a country’s heritage but also its present and future,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement.
The Shiva Nataraja bronze was sold by the mother of Nancy Wiener, a gallery operator who pleaded guilty in the case this month to charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen property, authorities said. Wiener sold looted items to major museums in Australia and Singapore, they said.
In June, the district attorney’s office returned more than two dozen artifacts worth $3.8 million to Cambodia as part of the investigation. Another 33 objects were sent back to Afghanistan in April.
Court papers filed in New York said Kapoor went to extraordinary lengths to acquire the artifacts, many of them statues of Hindu deities, and then falsified their provenance with forged documents. They said Kapoor traveled the world seeking out antiquities that had been looted from temples, homes and archaeological sites. Some of the artifacts were recovered from Kapoor’s storage units in New York.
Kapoor had the items cleansed and repaired to remove any damage from illegal excavation, and then illegally exported them to the United States from their countries of origin, according to U.S. prosecutors.