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The dealer, Subhash Kapoor, has been accused by U.S. authorities of being a major trafficker who sold stolen artifacts valued at more than $100 million.
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Colin Moynihan and
Subhash Kapoor, a former Madison Avenue art dealer whom investigators had identified as a major antiquities smuggler, has been convicted and sentenced to prison in India on burglary and illegal export charges.
Mr. Kapoor was found guilty of stealing 19 ancient idols and then illegally transferring them to his art gallery in Manhattan, according to a statement released by Indian authorities. He has been held for more than a decade in jail in India while awaiting trial and is expected to be extradited at some point to the United States, where he also faces charges.
In 2019, Mr. Kapoor and seven co-defendants were indicted in New York on charges that they had conspired to traffic in stolen antiquities.
“We are in contact with D.O.J. and Indian authorities about this matter,” said a spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is handling the case against Mr. Kapoor. “We intend to prosecute him in the United States.”
Georges Lederman, a lawyer in New York who represents Mr. Kapoor, said that his client had received an “aggregate” sentence of 10 years and that he had served the entirety of that sentence already in India. But he said Mr. Kapoor was still in custody because of an extradition hold that appeared to be related to a request by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“The facts underlying the case in India for which he has been convicted and sentenced are essentially the very same facts underlying the charges in the New York case,” Mr. Lederman said. For that reason, he suggested, if Mr. Kapoor were to be convicted in New York, he would presumably receive credit for the time he had spent in custody in India.
Mr. Kapoor has long denied wrongdoing. Indian authorities said that the delay in bringing him to trial was caused partly by his efforts to appeal his case. Several years ago a lawyer representing him in India insisted that his client had dealt only in replicas and had never exported or purchased actual antiques.
For years Mr. Kapoor was a major art world figure, selling Hindu, Buddhist and South Asian antiquities through his gallery on Madison Avenue, Art of the Past, some of which went to museum collections.
At the same time, American and Indian investigators were assembling voluminous evidence against him, much of it coming from an investigation, code-named Operation Hidden Idol, that they said showed Mr. Kapoor was trading in plundered items.
Prosecutors in India believe that gangs of looters working for one of Mr. Kapoor’s associates spread tales of killer bees and bat infestations near their targets, often remote jungle temples, to keep villagers away. Investigators said Mr. Kapoor received approval from Indian customs officials to ship items free of inspection. Colleagues in the art world were said to have helped to manufacture bogus histories for the stolen objects.
In New York, the district attorney’s office and Homeland Security Investigations conducted a long-running inquiry into Mr. Kapoor’s activities, concluding that he was responsible for a remarkable flow of stolen antiquities. Between 2011 and 2022, the district attorney’s office and Homeland Security officials said, they recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Mr. Kapoor and his network with a total value of more than $143 million.
Prosecutors in Manhattan, including Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, have already begun returning to India artifacts that they accuse Mr. Kapoor of plundering. Last month the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg Jr., announced the return to India of 307 antiquities worth millions of dollars, 235 of which had been seized in connection with the Kapoor investigation.
“These antiquities were stolen by multiple complex and sophisticated trafficking rings,” Mr. Bragg said, adding that the leaders of those enterprises “showed no regard for the cultural or historical significance of these objects.”
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