Friday, June 21, 2024
D.A. Bragg announces return of 133 antiquities to the people of Pakistan

D.A. Bragg announces return of 133 antiquities to the people of Pakistan

Monitoring Desk

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., has announced the return of 133 antiquities collectively valued at $14 million to the people of Pakistan. The pieces were seized pursuant to multiple investigations into trafficking networks targeting Pakistani antiquities, including SUBHASH KAPOOR and RICHARD BEALE. The pieces were returned at a ceremony with Consul General Aamer Ahmed Atozai and Assistant Special Agent-in Charge Christopher Lau, Homeland Security Investigations, New York.

“I thank our team of outstanding investigators and prosecutors, along with our partners at HSI, for returning these more than 100 antiquities back to the people of Pakistan. We will continue to celebrate Manhattan’s status as one of the cultural capitals of the world, while doing everything possible to ensure that the antiquities sitting in our galleries and museums arrived here legally,” said Manhattan District Attorney Bragg.

“These artifacts are now being returned to where they belong. This repatriation is more than the return of physical objects; it is the restoration of a part of Pakistan’s soul and identity,” said Consul General Aamer Ahmed Atozai

“It is an honor and a privilege to return these invaluable artifacts to the people of Pakistan, representing the very essence of their nation’s profound heritage. These 133 pieces of stolen history were being sold through black-market deals at the hands of antiquities traffickers. HSI stands at the forefront in investigating crimes related to the unlawful trafficking and dissemination of cultural treasures and ancient relics,” said Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “HSI New York remains resolute in our dedication to collaborate with foreign and domestic counterparts to safeguard against the plundering of irreplaceable antiquities.”

One of the key items being returned today is a Gold Strato I Coin, minted circa 105-85 B.C.E. during the reign of the King Strato I, who ruled portions of the Indo-Greek empire, including Gandhara, in what is now northern Pakistan. The Coin first surfaced in 2021 with BEALE and was seized by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit in 2023 when he attempted to smuggle it into the U.S. via JFK airport. BEALE and his co-conspirator, ITALO VECCHI, were convicted of antiquities trafficking-related crimes in August of 2023. The broader investigation into the BEALE-VECCHI trafficking network is ongoing.

Gold Strato I Coin Verso
Gold Strato I Coin Verso

Another antiquity being returned is a monumental stone head of a Bodhisattva wearing an elaborate headdress with central lotus flower. The stone head also comes from the Gandharan region—an important center of Buddhist art. Gandharan sculpture is renowned for its evolution of Buddha representations and iconographic features of the Bodhisattva. The stone head was recovered from a storage facility where it had allegedly been hidden by KAPOOR.

For over a decade, the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, along with law enforcement partners at Homeland Security Investigations, have investigated KAPOOR and his co-conspirators for the alleged illegal looting, exportation, and sale of artifacts from numerous countries in South and Southeast Asia, including Pakistan. As alleged, KAPOOR and his co-defendants generally smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through KAPOOR’S Madison Avenue-based gallery, Art of the Past. From 2011 to 2023 the D.A.’s Office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items allegedly trafficked by KAPOOR and his network. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.

The D.A.’s Office obtained an arrest warrant for KAPOOR in 2012. In November 2019, KAPOOR and seven of his co-defendants were indicted for their conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities. KAPOOR’s extradition from India is pending. Five of his co-defendants have already been convicted. This includes two of his indicted co-defendants as well as three other traffickers who had been charged separately.

During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered almost 2,100 antiquities stolen from more than 25 countries and valued at over $250 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered almost 5,800 antiquities valued at over $455 million and has returned more than 4,600 of them so far to more than 25 countries—with almost 1,000 scheduled to be returned in the coming months.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigations, which were conducted by Assistant District Attorney Yuval Simchi-Levi; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Hilary Chassé, Charlotte Looram, and Daniel Healey; District Attorney Investigator John Paul Labbat; and Special Agents Robert Fromkin and Brenton Easter of Homeland Security Investigations.


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