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Hidden Idol’s Asia Week Special, Part 2

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2nd Century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara region (likely from what is now known today as Swat Valley, Pakistan). Photo courtesy ICE.

 Customs officials landed a second Asia Week New York seizure last week when they snagged a Pakistani head that was headed for an East Coast auction house on March 8. The shipment contained red flags, including multiple false statements.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement: 

“This seizure contained a 2nd Century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara region (likely from what is now known today as Swat Valley, Pakistan,) and is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This artifact is important, not only for its size, condition, and quality of carving, but also because of the unusual amount of gold gilding that remains on the surface of the head. It is a common practice for looters to remove just the head of a sculpture in situ because it is easier to smuggle and sell on the black market.”

Investigators said artifacts like this often take very circuitous routes through Asia where they are entered into the shipping stream at very high volume ports. This is done to help hide the goods and can make finding a smuggled artifact among thousands of shipments kind of like finding a needle in a haystack.

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Buddha, Ganesha seized

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HSI seizes additional stolen statues linked to Manhattan art dealer
Oct. 24, 2012

NEW YORK – Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized two antique statues Oct. 23 from a Manhattan hotel. These statues were seized as part of an ongoing HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation into an alleged dealer of stolen antiquities.

HSI special agents executed a search warrant Oct. 23 issued for a hotel located in Manhattan. The hotel was allegedly lent these statues by Art of the Past gallery, which is owned by Subhash Kapoor. In July, an arrest warrant for Kapoor was issued by the Manhattan Criminal Court on charges he possessed stolen property.

The statues seized include:

A grey schist bust of a Bodhisattva from Gandhara, from the second to third century A.D.: and

A white sandstone sculpture depicting a Ganesha from India, from the 10th century A.D.

The total value of seizure is estimated at $1.7 million.

In February 2007, the Indian consulate contacted HSI requesting assistance in the investigation of the potential smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York. The Indian consulate advised HSI that an import and export company was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as “Marble Garden Table Sets.” The consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities. This merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

As a result of this investigation, HSI special agents in New York have seized over 100 antiquities with an estimated value of $75 million. Notable items seized include:

One five foot tall head of a Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds;

One life sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds;

A bronze sculpture, depicting Uma Parvati, valued at nearly $2.5 million; and

A second century B.C. Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at nearly $15 million.

This investigation has uncovered that Kapoor allegedly created false provenances to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities. Investigators urge collectors and museums to further scrutinize their collections and contact HSI with any additional information. HSI will aggressively pursue the illicit pieces not yet recovered.

Kapoor, who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. Kapoor was extradited to India July 2012, where he faced criminal charges.