The US Returns Subhash Kapoor’s Looted Artifacts to Pakistan

Published: 17 November 2022

Maitreya FigurineAmong the artifacts was an ancient buddha statue and 5500 year-old dolls which are some of the oldest representations of the human figure ever to be discovered. (Photo: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, License)

By David Klein

Nearly 200 looted antiquities that were recovered from the collection of a disgraced New York art dealer were returned to Pakistan last week, Manhattan’s District Attorney announced in a statement.

Valued at over US$3.4 million, the artifacts were taken from Subhash Kapoor, who was revealed to be operating a multi million dollar network that stole thousands of artifacts from their countries of origin to sell to New York’s high society. Many of the items ended up in the collection of museums and universities around the world.

Kapoor, who had been languishing in an Indian prison since his arrest at Frankfurt airport in 2011, was convicted last week and sentenced to ten years behind bars. However the U.S. is still requesting his extradition for their own charges against him.

Subhash Kapoor was one of the world’s most prolific antiquities traffickers, yet thanks to the work of our dedicated investigators and analysts, we have been able to recover thousands of pieces looted by his network. We will continue to pursue full accountability against Mr. Kapoor and his co-conspirators, who showed a blatant disregard for the cultural and historic significance of these antiquities,” said Manhattan’s Alvin L. District Attorney Bragg.

The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion dollar global industry, according to a 2018 report by Standard Charter Bank, and it’s beneficiaries are not just high society art aficionados like Kapoor and his Manhattan clients, but often the trade is a major funding source for criminal and militant groups on the supply side.

“You cannot look at it separately from combating trafficking in drugs and weapons. We know that the same groups are engaged, because it generates big money,” said Catherine de Bolle, Executive Director of Europol after a major crackdown on the illegal antiquities trade in May 2020.

The looting of cultural property from active war zones is considered a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention.

“These remarkable works of art were ruthlessly removed from their rightful home and trafficked without regard for their immense cultural and spiritual value. Homeland Security Investigations New York is proud to stand with our colleagues at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and our partners from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to ensure these 191 pieces can finally be returned to the people of Pakistan,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo.

Among the looted pieces was a Buddha statue from the ancient civilization of Gandhara, which spanned across the modern Afghanistan-Pakistan border, as well as neolithic Mehrgarh Dolls, which are as much as 5,500 years old.

“Among the earliest human-crafted figurines in the world, these terracotta artifacts are thought to represent mother goddesses or a cultic figure for worship,” the DA statement explained. They were looted from the Mehrgarh site in Pakistan at some point after its discovery in 1974 and smuggled to New York City.