MANHATTAN – Inside an unassuming art gallery near the corner of East 89th Street and Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side was the center of an international antiquities trafficking operation, according to prosecutors– who say they recovered works worth more than $143 Million from Art of the Past.
“Cultural heritage crimes involving the looting and illicit sale of ancient artifacts represent an attack on the indispensable link from a nation’s history to its present and future,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said Monday while announcing that three antiquities had been returned to the people of Indonesia.
The sculptures repatriated to Indonesia during a ceremony Monday were that of Hindu gods— a seated Shiva, a seated Parvati and a seated figure of Ganesh— prosecutors say they were among more than two-thousand stolen artifacts looted and smuggled into Manhattan and put up for sale in Carnegie Hill.
“On behalf of the Republic of Indonesia, allow me to extend our heartfelt gratitude,” Indonesia’s Consul General, Dr. Arifi Saiman said.
Meanwhile, Art of the Past is permanently closed. Investigators say the owner of the store, Subash Kapoor, is in prison in India awaiting extradition to the United States.
For nearly a decade the store and its owner had been under investigation, prosecutors say, for the illegal looting, exportation and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and other countries.
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 it’s allegedly pilfered antiquities.
Since last year, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says it has returned 393 antiquities to eleven countries and has many more waiting to return to their homelands amid the pandemic. However, more than a thousand artifacts can’t be returned to their rightful owners because they being held as evidence in ongoing criminal cases.