MANHATTAN – Just over a month after stolen Indonesian antiquities were returned to their rightful owners after being seized from what investigators say was an international antiquities trafficking operation inside an unassuming art gallery near the corner of East 89th Street and Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side— more than one hundred pieces, including three ancient sculptures valued at more than $1.1 Million were returned to Pakistan.
“This magnificent collection of artifacts returned to the people of Pakistan today epitomizes that nation’s rich cultural heritage and humanity’s never-ending quest for enlightenment and peace,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.
Prosecutors say the large lot of ancient artifacts— totaling 104 pieces in all— were among hundreds of antiquities pilfered from countries around the world and smuggled to the United States were sold through the shuttered Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue.
For nearly a decade the gallery and its owner, Subash Kapoor, had been under investigation for the illegal looting, exportation and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and other countries.
Among the ancient items returned to Pakistan included a schist reliquary casket from the third or fourth century valued at $175,000, a gilded schist head of a Bodhisattva from the second or third century valued at $250,000, and a stucco Bodhisattva from the years 200-600 AD valued at three-quarters of a million dollars.
“Hopefully soon these artifacts will be displayed in Pakistani museums,” said Pakistan’s Consul General Ayesha Ali.
Kapoor is currently in prison in India awaiting extradition to the US. The accused crimes happening in plain sight— and went as far as to have the store, Art of the Past, included in Google’s Streetview maps— taken in May 2019— so that one can take a virtual tour of the store and its allegedly stolen antiquities.
Since last August, the Manhattan Antiquities Trafficking Unit says it has returned 497 antiquities to eleven nations with the help of the Department of Homeland Security. Works valued at a total of more than $143 Million were recovered from the Art of the Past investigation
“With every repatriation there is a new joy and satisfaction that goes with returning a piece of history to its home country,” said Peter Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York.