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HSI seizes statues allegedly linked to prolific antiquities smuggler

Seized statues

A group of ancient Indian statues, allegedly looted from temples in Asia with an estimated worth of $5 million, were seized at the Port of Newark on Dec. 5 by  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The 14th century A.D. bronze Parvati statue and four bronze Tamil Nadu figures, were seized as part of an HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation titled Operation Hidden Idol. The seizure is a direct result of international cooperation with the government of India, Interpol and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, said ICE.

The statues were allegedly sold by notorious New York antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing criminal charges in India for stealing ancient artifacts.

ICE has been on Kapoor’s trail since 2007, when the Indian government asked for assistance in investigating illegal importation of Indian cultural artifacts into New York. By the end of January 2012, ICE said HSI special agents had seized dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $10 million allegedly imported by Kapoor. As recently as July, ICE seized more statues and ancient artifacts worth millions from a Manhattan storage facility that it also linked to him. 

HSI said the Parvati sculpture seized in Newark on Dec. 5 was the cultural property of India and is one of many items stolen from temples in the Tamil Nadu region and allegedly sold by Kapoor. The agency said even though the statue had been in the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database, it had passed through the hands of six different dealers and been given multiple layers of false provenance over the past six years. The statue, said the agency, had been in Europe and had been aggressively pursued along each step of its journey by HSI New York. This is the fifth bronze Chola statue allegedly stolen and sold by Kapoor that has been recovered by HSI in the past year, it said.

"Subhash Kapoor's alleged smuggling of cultural artifacts worth more than an estimated $100 million makes him one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world today. We urge the art community to help us identify artifacts sold or donated by Subhash Kapoor so that we can ensure their legitimacy," said James Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the government of India to bring Mr. Kapoor to justice and return the artifacts in question to their rightful owners. HSI understands full-well that for many nations there is no price tag when it comes to their national treasures."

"We would like to express our deep sense of appreciation to ICE/HSI, for the outstanding work done in retrieving and recovering the priceless antiquities illegally brought into the United States by smuggling syndicates," said the Honorable Prabhu Dayal, consul general, Consulate General of India, New York. These seizures also demonstrate and vindicate the growing cooperation between ICE and relevant agencies of the Indian government in tackling issues of mutual concern."

"U. S. Customs and Border Protection is extremely proud to have played an important role in the seizing of this bronze Parvati that was stolen from the people of India," said Robert E. Perez, Director New York Field Operations. "CBP, working with Homeland Security Investigations, Interpol, and Indian authorities continues to demonstrate its resolve of law enforcement in the United States to address illegal trafficking in stolen artifacts."

"The combined efforts of the dedicated employees at ICE/HSI, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, and Interpol Washington have once again provided reassurance to other nations that transnational crimes of this nature can be combatted. One of Interpol's primary purposes is to connect police all around the world through utilizing special operations like 'Operation Hidden Idol' to seize significant historical properties such as the Parvati," said Shawn Bray, director of INTERPOL Washington. "I am extremely proud of the level of collaboration during this four-year-long case."