9 years later, stolen idols set to return home from US

Jun 10, 2016, 08:40 IST | Neha LM Tripathi

Smuggling racket was busted in the US based on specific information provided by DRI, Mumbai, in 2007, which eventually led to the arrest of its kingpin, Subhash Kapoor, in 2011

Good news came for India two days ago, when the US declared to return over 200 stolen artefacts worth over $100 million, which the Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be getting along today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Attorney General Lorett Lynch during the ceremony for handing over of the idols in Washington DC on Monday. Pic/PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Attorney General Lorett Lynch during the ceremony for handing over of the idols in Washington DC on Monday. Pic/PTI

Senior bureaucrats from the MEA told mid-day that it was the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Mumbai, which built a strong case seeking return of the stolen artefacts. In 2007, the DRI provided specific information to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US, through the Indian Consul in New York about a particular shipment of seven crates containing ‘marble garden table sets’. The consignment was supposed to reach Nimbus Import Export Inc, 2 Cross Field Avenue, Suite 205, West Nyack, NY.

Upon confiscation and scrutiny of the consignment, ICE recovered rare Indian art and artefacts. It later came to the fore that a person named Subhash Kapoor had abandoned the consignment. At present, the shipment is in ICE’s custody as evidence of smuggling against Kapoor.

Digging deeper
Later, the then Consul (Trade) lodged the claim of Indian ownership of the antiques with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Upon discovering the artefact smuggling racket run by Kapoor, the ICE searched various art galleries and warehouses either owned or controlled by him on January 5, 2011. The raids led to the discovery of countless illegally acquired artefacts that were displayed across these establishments. One such establishment operated by Kapoor was Art of the Past, an art gallery at 1242 Madison Avenue in NY.

“Kapoor Galleries, located at 1015 Madison Avenue, owned and operated by Ramesh Kapoor and his son Suneet Kapoor. Ramesh and Subhash are sons of Parshotam Ram Kapoor, who was an antique dealer. The brothers moved to New York in the mid-70s and have been dealing in Indian antiques since then,” revealed a top source.

Kapoor, considered by many as the greatest artefact smuggler of all-time, is currently cooling his heels in a Chennai prison following his extradition from Germany in the second half of 2011. The Interpol had issued a red corner notice against him. The entire expedition to nab Kapoor was called the ‘Operation Hidden idol’ by the Homeland Security Investigations.

A senior bureaucrat said, “Subash is in Chennai because an FIR related to the missing idols was filed there. Once the idols are back, they will be returned by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to the temples and museums they were stolen from.”

1,000-yr-old treasures
Items returned included religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites. Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, India, which is valued at $1.5 million. Also included in the collection is a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh estimated to be 1,000 years old.

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