Cops Nab Smugglers of Hindu Dieties

Manhattan -- The district attorney’s office and federal authorities have expanded their investigation into antiquities smuggling by Subhash Kapoor, a longtime Upper East Side art dealer who is accused of selling looted items from India that have ended up in private collections and museums around the world.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are checking provenance records of their collected antiquities to assure that they possess none of the stolen loot.

This past week, the district attorney’s office charged Mr. Kapoor’s sister, Sushma Sareen of Rockville Centre, N.Y., with hiding four bronze statues of Hindu deities, together valued at $14.5 million, so they could not be confiscated.

Mr. Kapoor, 64, owner of the Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue at 89th Street, has been jailed in India in the case since last year. In four raids in 2012, investigators found more than $100 million worth of Indian antiquities at sites associated with Mr. Kapoor, the authorities said.

Mr. Kapoor’s Manhattan gallery, which was founded in 1974, remained open until it was raided last January by investigators who seized antiquities valued at $10 million.

Prosecutors say in court papers that after that raid, Ms. Sareen arranged to have the bronzes, then in an associate’s custody, moved “to a safe location.”

Investigators would not comment on whether they had recovered the statues, which they identified as four 11th-century and 12th-century works that had been taken from temples in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Federal officials have described Mr. Kapoor as “one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world.”

The prosecutor in charge of the case for the district attorney is Matthew Bogdanos, who, as a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves in Iraq, oversaw an investigation into the 2003 looting of the National Museum in Baghdad.

The criminal complaint filed in Manhattan says Ms. Sareen took charge of her brother’s business operations after he was arrested and traveled to India to arrange for wire transfers and contact the smuggling network.

Ms. Sareen, 60, who is charged with four counts of criminal possession of stolen property, was released on $10,000 bail.

In three raids after the initial seizures at the Art of the Past gallery, federal authorities seized more than $90 million in Indian antiquities from storage units in Manhattan linked to Mr. Kapoor.

Simultaneously, they asked American museums to examine their collections for items they might have obtained from Mr. Kapoor. While some said they had drawings and terra cotta items donated by him, none have reported owning an ancient statue.

Under India’s Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, no art object more than 100 years old may be removed from the country. But in the decades since the law was instituted in 1972, antiques from several Indian temples and heritage sites have been auctioned in New York and London.

At least two other stolen statues, pictured above, tied to Mr. Kapoor have been traced to museums in Australia, and Indian authorities have demanded their return. One piece similar to those missing in New York was sold for $5 million to the National Gallery in Australia, which told Indian officials it is reviewing their request.