By TOM MASHBERG APRIL 14, 2015
The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Tuesday made public the largest antiquities seizure in American history and asked a judge to grant it custody of a startling 2,622 artifacts recovered from storage rooms affiliated with an imprisoned Madison Avenue art dealer.
The artifacts, valued by the authorities at $107.6 million, were described in papers filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan as having been looted from India and other places in southern Asia and smuggled into the United States by the dealer, Subhash Kapoor.
In their complaint, prosecutors said Mr. Kapoor, 65, had cached the items in an assortment of hideaways in Manhattan and Queens. They were confiscated during raids that began in 2012 and continued through last year.
The seized items included bronze and stone statues of Hindu deities, many of them ancient masterworks worth several million dollars each.
The authorities said their goal in gaining custody of the items was to set in motion the return of the stolen objects to India and their other countries of origin. Officials also hope to prosecute Mr. Kapoor, an American citizen, in the United States. Currently he is awaiting trial in India on charges of plundering archaeological sites and conspiring with black market traders to send illicit artifacts overseas. American officials are planning to extradite him after his case is settled.
Mr. Kapoor, whose defunct gallery, Art of the Past, sold hundreds of objects to prominent American museums and collectors, has denied any wrongdoing.
“At the present time we are at a distinct disadvantage because Mr. Kapoor is in an Indian jail and all the facts in this matter are known by him,” said Kenneth J. Kaplan, a lawyer for Mr. Kapoor. Manhattan prosecutors declined to comment on the case.
Since an initial raid on Mr. Kapoor’s gallery by Homeland Security Investigations agents in 2012, three of his associates have agreed to criminal penalties in exchange for cooperating with investigators, according to officials and lawyers. The case, which now extends to four continents and is being pursued in conjunction with Indian officials, has been named Operation Hidden Idol.
The recovered artifacts are from India and other places in southern Asia. Prosecutors said the dealer had cached the items in an assortment of hideaways in Manhattan and Queens. Credit Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times
Mr. Kapoor’s office manager, Aaron M. Freedman, 43, of Princeton, N.J., pleaded guilty in 2013 to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million and, according to his lawyer, helped officials track down some of Mr. Kapoor’s hidden storage locations.
In addition, Mr. Kapoor’s sister, Sushma Sareen, a 61-year-old Queens resident, pleaded guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice and was sentenced to conditional release. In 2013, she had been charged with receiving and possessing several million dollars’ worth of ancient bronze statues, which remain missing. She is also cooperating, according to investigators.
Federal authorities have identified 18 American museums as owning a total of 500 items sold or donated by Mr. Kapoor. Several museums have recently turned in objects judged to be illicit, while others have said they are satisfied that their Kapoor items were legally acquired.
A version of this article appears in print on April 15, 2015, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline