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Man arraigned on rhino horn charges

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IMG_0344From the U.S. Department of Justice:

Guan Zong Chen, aka Graham Chen, a Chinese national, was arraigned July 25, 2017, in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts,non charges that he led a conspiracy to  smuggle $700,000 worth of wildlife items made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral from the United States to Hong Kong.

Chen was arrested last year when he traveled from China to Australia and today’s hearing was his first court appearance on an indictment returned by a Boston grand jury in 2015 and unsealed in anticipation of the hearing.

According to the eight-count indictment, Chen purchased the wildlife artifacts at U.S. auction houses located in California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Texas. He conspired with another Chinese national, a recent college graduate in China to travel to the United States to pick up the purchased items and either hand carry or arrange for them to be mailed to another co-conspirator that owned a shipping business in Concord, Massachusetts. The shipper then repacked the wildlife items and exported (smuggled) them to Hong Kong with documents that falsely stated their contents and value and without obtaining required declarations and permits. In April 2014, Chen visited the United States and visited the shipper in Concord, Massachusetts. During the visit with the shipper, CHEN instructed the shipper to illegally export (smuggle) a sculpture made from elephant ivory to Hong Kong on Chen’s behalf and falsely declared it to be made of wood and worth $50.

Plea in Art of the Past probe

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Here’s the ICE account on the latest in the Art of the Past investigation:

NJ man pleads to selling stolen South Central Asian antiquities

NEW YORK – A Manhattan art gallery manager pleaded guilty last week in his role in coordinating a large-scale conspiracy to sell stolen Indian antiquities worth tens of millions of dollars.

Aaron Freedman, 41, of Princeton, NJ, worked for nearly two decades as a manager at Art of the Past, a gallery that served as a front for the sale of stolen and looted Buddhist and Hindu statues. As the store’s manager, Freedman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the for conspiring to possess stolen property, along with five counts of possession of stolen property.

He admitted to assisting Art of the Past owner Subhash Kapoor, 64, with shipments of stolen antiquities from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Cambodia, as well as providing false provenances. As part of the conspiracy, Freedman assisted with the sale of stolen artwork to galleries and museums across the world, which included the sale of a stolen $5 million Shiva Nataraja statue looted from the Sivan Temple in India, which is now on display at the National Gallery of Australia and the attempted sale of a 2nd century B.C. Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at approximately $15 million, which is now in Homeland Security Investigations custody pending forfeiture.

In total, Freedman pleaded guilty to six felony counts related to possession of stolen property valued at roughly $35 million. He has also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing HSI investigation and prosecution of Kapoor, who is currently in the custody of Indian authorities for arranging the theft of statues from significant cultural and religious sites in that country. Kapoor also faces charges in New York County for possession of stolen property.

“Kapoor is by far the biggest smuggler, in terms of numbers of antiquities stolen and their market value, that we have seen,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge for HSI New York. “HSI special agents continue to search and seek recovery of dozens of bronze and sandstone images of Hindu and Buddhist deities sold by Kapoor.”