The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) has handed over two ancient artefacts allegedly belonging to New York-based gallerist Subhash Kapoor to the Indian High Commission in the UK. The artefacts— a limestone relief and a bronze figure— are from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively. While the limestone relief dates back between 1st century BC and 1st century AD, the bronze figure from Tamil Nadu is from the 17th century AD. In addition to ICE, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in the UK, the High Commission of India in London, the Indian Customs and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in New York (DANY) helped in the repatriation of these artefacts.
Without naming the smuggler, believed to be Subhash Kapoor, a statement from ICE said that the artefacts are linked to 'one of the most prolific art smugglers in the world, who was recently charged in Manhattan, New York.' Revealing that a UK-based individual in possession of the items handed them over voluntarily, ICE noted that that the limestone relief and bronze figure are two of more than 2,600 antiquities recovered from around the world. Subhash Kapoor is currently lodged at the Trichy Central Prison and faces trial for idol trafficking.
Peter C Fitzhugh, special agent in charge for HSI New York, said, “The cultural significance of artefacts looted from regions around the world extends beyond a monetary value. The pieces, like those recovered through this operation, are stolen fragments of history; and it is an honor to return them to their rightful home country. HSI recognizes the importance of both international and local partnerships in locating pilfered antiquities and cultural property, and it is through these repatriations that new generations are able to experience a part of their nation’s story.”
In recent years, Tamil Nadu in particular has seen high profile cases of idol theft in the limelight. Notably, the arrest of Subhash Kapoor in Germany in 2012 revealed that he had an accomplice in Chennai— well-respected art connoisseur Govindaraj Deenadayalan. The duo smuggled the famous bronze idol of Nataraja from Sri Brihadeeswarar temple in Tamil Nadu's Ariyalur district.
Speaking to the Times of India, Vijay Kumar, Author of The Idol Thief and co-founder of India Pride Project, a non-profit that aims to restore stolen artefacts to India, said, “The Navaneetha Krishna bronze shows signs of active worship. A proper investigation will be able to reveal the paper trail and eventually the details of the theft. Stylistically, we opine that the pillar (of a railing, most likely that of a stupa) was stolen from the ancient site of Vaddamanu in Andhra Pradesh. This is the second site from AP, the previous being Chandavaram, from where the Subash Kapoor gang had stolen artifacts.”