Federal Agents Seize Stolen Antiquities at Christie’s

An informant has assisted investigators in tracking the items.

A sandstone stele of Rishabhanata from the 10th century, believed looted, seized in a raid of Christie’s as part of an international investigation into former dealer Subhash Kapoor. Photo courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security.

The case of disgraced dealer Subhash Kapoor continues to unfold, as federal agents seized two religious Indian artifacts—believed to have been smuggled—at Christie’s on Friday, March 11.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service has announced in a press release that special agents working in conjunction with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office raided Christie’s in New York City, ahead of a special Christie’s auction scheduled for March 15, during Asia Art Week.

A Christie’s spokesperson said the auction house had no knowledge of the claims against the works, as that evidence was “not publicly available,” adding that the company was cooperating with the investigation, the New York Times reports.

According to the NYT, crucial information may have been indeed unavailable to Christie’s as the affidavit reveals that federal agents were aided in tracking the looted items by an informant who had previously pleaded guilty to possessing stolen property.

Valued together at about $450,000, the sandstone artifacts, believed to be from the 8th and 10th centuries A.D., were recovered as the result of an international investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the government of India and Interpol, into disgraced New York dealer, Subhash Kapoor.

An 8th-century sandstone panel depicting an equestrian deity, seized by the authorities from Christie’s auction scheduled for Asia Week New York.Phozo: Department of Homeland Security

An 8th century sandstone panel depicting an equestrian deity, seized by the authorities from Christie’s auction scheduled for Asia Week New York.
Photo: Department of Homeland Security.

Kapoor, who operated the New York gallery Art of the Past for decades, was extradited to India in 2011 to stand trial on charges of organizing a $100 million smuggling ring. He is currently in custody awaiting trial for looting rare antiquities from several countries.

The reach of Kapoor’s international ring can be traced all around the world. In the last year, several museums, including the Peabody Essex Museum, the Toledo Museum, the Honolulu Museum, and the National Gallery of Australia, as well as one major New York collector, have partnered with HSI to return illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor.

“This seizure at the beginning of an international event as well recognized as Asia Week New York sends two important messages,” Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York, said in the release. “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,”

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