US returns 307 stolen antiquities to India



The District Attorney of Manhattan Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., on October 17, 2022, announced the return of 307 antiquities valued at nearly $4 million to the people of India.

Investigation into Subhash Kapoor, a prolific looter who helped traffic items from Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other countries led to the seizure of 235 antiquities. Five of the antiquities were seized during an investigation into Nancy Wiener, and one was recovered as part of an investigation into another suspect Nayef Homsi. The remaining 66 antiquities were stolen from India by multiple smaller antique trafficking networks.

All the antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Indian Consulate in New York attended by India’s Consul General Randhir Jaiswal, and US Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Acting Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge, Tom Lau.

“We are proud to return hundreds of stunning pieces back to the people of India,” said District Attorney Bragg. “These antiquities were stolen by multiple complex and sophisticated trafficking rings – the leaders of which showed no regard for the cultural or historical significance of these objects. Tracking down these antiquities would not be possible without the collaboration of our law enforcement partners at HSI and the outstanding work of our world-class investigators.”

The investigations were conducted by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit; Assistant District Attorneys Bradley Barbour, James Edward-Lebair, and Taylor Holland; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, Daniel Healey, and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agents Megan Buckley, John Paul Labbat, and Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations.

Investigative support was provided by Dr. Kirit Mankodi and Homeland Security Investigations New Delhi. Harriet Feigenbaum, Uma Venkateswaran, Yale University Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Australia, and the Denver Art Museum also assisted the DA’s investigations.

“Today we are proud to join our partners from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to return an incredible 307 stolen works of art and antiquities to their rightful home in India. This repatriation is the result of a globe-spanning, fifteen-year investigation whereas the investigative team chased leads, followed the money, and ultimately seized these pieces, ensuring their return to the people of India,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Alfonso. “HSI will continue to investigate artifacts with little or no provenance, or of questionable origin, and work with our domestic and international partners to return these priceless pieces of history to their rightful homes.”

For over a decade, the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at Homeland Security Investigations, have investigated Kapoor and his co-conspirators for the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of artifacts from numerous countries all over the world. Kapoor and his co-defendants generally smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through Kapoor’s Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2022, the DA’s Office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and his network. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.

The DA’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor in 2012. In November 2019, Kapoor and his seven co-defendants were indicted for their conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities. In July 2020, the DA’s Office filed extradition paperwork for Kapoor, who has been in prison in India since 2012 pending the completion of his ongoing trial. Five of Kapoor’s co-defendants have already been convicted.

One of Kapoor’s pieces that were returned on October 17 is the Arch Parikara. Crafted from marble, the Arch Parikara dates to the 12-13th century and is valued at approximately $85,000. The Arch Parikara first surfaced in photographs depicting it in a dirty, pre-restoration condition. These photographs—along with dozens of others depicting antiquities lying in the grass or on the ground—were sent to Kapoor by a supplier of illicit antiques in India. The piece was smuggled out of India and into New York in May 2002. Kapoor then laundered the Arch Parikara to the Nathan Rubin – Ida Ladd Family Foundation, who donated the piece to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2007.

In the 1960s, Doris Wiener dealt with and trafficked South Asian antiquities through her gallery in New York County. Known for taking “shopping trips,” where she would travel through South Asia to select stolen antiquities that would later be smuggled into New York, Wiener also sold antiquities with her daughter, Nancy, until Doris’s death in 2011. Nancy Wiener was arrested in 2016 by the DA’s Office and convicted and sentenced in 2021.

One of the antiquities that was returned on October 17 from Nancy Wiener is the idol of Vishnu and Lakshmi with Garuda dating to the 11th century C.E., which was looted from a temple in Central India and smuggled into New York County.

In 2022 alone, the DA’s Office has returned 682 antiquities, valued at over $84 million to 13 countries. Since its establishment, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit has returned nearly 2,200 antiquities, valued at over $160 million, to 22 countries.

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