Indian court sentences US antiquities smuggler to 10 years in prison

Written by the author Oscar Holland, CNN

Helpers Manveena Suri, CNN

An unscrupulous American antiques 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 on smuggling charges.

Subhash Kapoor was tried along with five accomplices on charges including criminal conspiracy, theft and the illegal export of 19 artifacts worth more than 940 million rupees ($11.4 million), a police spokesman confirmed to CNN.

The verdict follows a years-long investigation into Kapoor accused of trafficking thousands of treasures looted from temples, ruins and archaeological sites across Asia. The American Indian dealer’s looting ring is believed to have forged authentication documents for the 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 charges in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where his trial began last year. Although the seller has already spent 11 years in prison, he will not walk free after the verdict, as he has also been charged in the US with grand theft, conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud and criminal possession of stolen property.

As part of an investigation called “Operation Hidden Idol,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit—a task force of lawyers, investigators and art experts—has seized more than 2,500 looted artifacts, worth an estimated $143 million, linked to Kapoor. In addition to the 19 items he has now been convicted of smuggling, the seller has also been accused of handling thousands of other items in Nepal, Cambodia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others.

An image provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office shows an elaborate marble arch dating back to the 12th or 13th century. dating back to the 19th century, US investigators believe Kapoor smuggled it into the US from India. A private collector later donated the bow to the Yale University Art Gallery. Credit: Yale University Art Gallery

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

Kapoor’s New York-based lawyer, Georges Lederman, confirmed that the seller will remain in custody in India pending the extradition request. Last year, Lederman told CNN that his client plans to contest the US charges on double jeopardy grounds, “because the conduct he’s being charged for in New York is the same one he’s already served in India.”

Organizations in the US and abroad have already stolen hundreds of items managed by Kapoor. Last month, Bragg’s office donated 235 items related to the retailer to India, including an elaborate marble arch from the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
In 2016, at an event in Washington DC attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, United States officials returned to India more than 200 artifacts seized from a shipment imported by Kapoor. The cache, which included religious statues 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 in Canberra have also returned items acquired from Kapoor’s gallery on several occasions. In 2014, the then prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, personally handed over two 900-year-old statues after a direct appeal by India for their repatriation.

Image above: Subhash Kapoor escorted by police to a court in Tamil Nadu, India in July 2015.