United States Returns 248 Stolen Antiques to India

by The Cowl Editor on December 11, 2021


United States Returns 248 Stolen Antiques to India

Pieces Valued at $15 Million Given Back to India by the Manhattan District Attorney

Claudia Fennell ’24

In October, law enforcement from the United States finally sent 248 stolen antique artifacts back to India ten years after the man responsible for the theft was captured. In 2011, 72-year-old American citizen Subhash Kapoor was captured by Interpol in Frankfurt, Germany before being extradited to India, where he is currently being held at Trichi Central Jail in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu for his role in the crime. He is being prosecuted not merely for stealing the 248 artifacts now being returned, but rather for a much larger-scale operation: illegally trafficking over 2,500 antiques from all over Southern Asia. 

Kapoor was aided in his efforts by his family and friends. Some of his convicted accomplices include his sister, Sushma Sareen, and his ex-girlfriend, Selina Mohamed. Kapoor also received help from professional art restorers, Neil Smith from London and Richard Salmon from Brooklyn, who cleaned the pieces to remove any signs of theft. After the restoration process was completed, Kapoor worked with his associates to sell the antiques through the art gallery that he owned, named Arts of the Past and located on Madison Avenue in New York City, to collectors and museums. 

Museums stretching from Hawaii to Massachusetts have begun to send the antiques they purchased from Kapoor to authorities in response to this investigation. These museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

In addition to the nearly 250 pieces stolen from India, investigators also found hundreds of art pieces from other nations in Kapoor’s storage units. Authorities confiscated and returned 149 pieces to Pakistan, 33 to Afghanistan, 27 to Cambodia, and 13 to Thailand. Other pieces found in his collection were from Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as well. Authorities have estimated that over the course of Kapoor’s career, he has stolen over $143 million in antiques across the globe. Many of the stolen pieces were taken from poverty-stricken villages that worshiped them for hundreds of years. Homeland Security agent J.P. Labbat reported to the New York Times that returning these pieces to their rightful owners is “The best part of what we do.” Among the pieces returned to India include a 12th century bronze statue of the Hindu God Shiva valued at $4 million. 

The extensive amount of artwork that was stolen in this case makes it one of the largest art trafficking heists in United States history. Investigators say that regardless of the verdict Kapoor will receive in India, he will be extradited back to the United States to stand trial for a second time. Once he returns to the states, Kapoor will face multiple charges of Class B felonies, which requires state prison custody. Investigators worked on this case, named Operation Hidden Idol, for over a decade, beginning with raids of Kapoor’s storage facilities beginning in 2012 and ending in 2020. Officials from Homeland Security Investigations and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office are now in the process of figuring out the next steps of the case, namely, extraditing Kapoor back to America.