After court in New York orders seizure, Met says will transfer 15 antiques to India – The Indian Express

A fortnight after The Indian Express investigation that at least 77 Indian antiquities linked to notorious smuggler Subhash Kapoor – who is in a Tamil Nadu jail — are still at the New York-based Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), the New York Supreme Court has issued a search warrant against the museum which promptly announced that it will return 15 sculptures to India.
Of the 15 items listed in the search warrant, 10 were flagged in The Indian Express report. The 15 include the 11th century sandstone Celestial Dancer (Apsara) from Madhya Pradesh (valued at more than $1 million) and the 1st century BCE Yakshi Terracotta from West Bengal.
Judicial records show that on March 22, the Supreme Court of the State of New York issued a search warrant against the Met in which Justice Felicia A. Mennin has given 10 days to the New York Police Department or any agent of the Department of Homeland Security to seize the antiquities and bring them “before the court without unnecessary delay.”
On March 30, the Met issued a statement that it “will transfer 15 sculptures for return to the government of India, after having learned that the works were illegally removed from India.” It said that “all of the works were sold at one point by Subhash Kapoor, a dealer currently serving a prison sentence in India.”
These works range in date from the 1st century BCE to the 11th century CE, and include terracotta, copper, and stone, the Met stated.
The value of the 15 Indian antiquities listed in the search warrant has been estimated as $1.201 million (nearly Rs 9.87 crore).
The search warrant stated that these items were stolen and constitute evidence of the crimes like possession of stolen property and a conspiracy to commit the crimes under US penal law.
An investigation by The Indian Express in association with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and UK-based Finance Uncovered, published on March 14 and March 15 this year had revealed that Met’s catalogue includes at least 77 antiquities spanning centuries, including 59 paintings, with links to Subhash Kapoor.
Kapoor is serving a 10-year prison term in Tamil Nadu’s Trichy central jail for smuggling antiquities.
Another report in the series stated that the Met’s formidable Asia collection includes at least 94 artefacts of Jammu and Kashmir origin — 81 sculptures, five paintings, five pages of a manuscript, two Kashmir carpet antiquities and one page of calligraphy — none of which have details in their provenance, or background documents, of when they were moved out and by whom.
The list of antiquities listed include two from J&K flagged in The Indian Express report: an 8th century stone sculpture of Kamadeva, the god of love; and a 3rd-4th century Harwan floral tile made of terracotta.
Other antiquities listed are: A ceramic pot; a terracotta Yakshi holding a crowned child with visiting parrot and a terracotta Yakshi Holding a Crowned Child, all from Chandraketugarh in West Bengal and estimated to date back to 1st century BCE; a Bronze of God Revanta Returning from the Hunt (10th century CE); a 15th century Parikara (Backplate); and a 17th century ivory panel with Krishna and Gopis.
When asked about the latest developments, Met and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to queries sent by The Indian Express. Kapoor’s lawyer S Nadhiya said she is not aware of any latest developments in the US. She added: “An appeal against his conviction is pending at a sessions court in Thanjavur.”
In its statement, the Met said it had contacted authorities in 2015 about its Kapoor-linked items and that, through a “cooperative partnership” with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, “the museum received new information from the Manhattan DA’s office about 15 works of art that made it clear that the works should be transferred, resulting in the constructive resolution.”
It added: “The Museum is actively reviewing the history of antiquities from suspect dealers,” and that “The Museum values highly its long-standing relationships with the government of India, and is pleased to resolve this matter.”
The US Department of Homeland Security has described Kapoor as “one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world.”
He was arrested in Frankfurt on October 30, 2011, and extradited to India in July 2012. On November 1, 2022, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail by a court in Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam on charges of burglary and illegal export of idols belonging to the Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram. He is currently serving his sentence in Trichy jail.
Kapoor faces charges in the US as well for smuggling idols and artefacts from Asia. A complaint filed in July 2019 in a New York court by the Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) stated that the “total value of stolen antiquities known to have been trafficked by Kapoor exceeds $145.71 million”.
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