Not so long ago, Subhash Kapoor owner of a Madison Avenue 'art' gallery (Art of the Past) was busy trading "fine art and antiquities from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas". His shop had a huge stock (he says of 5000 items) of sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts"ranging in date from the 3rd millennium BC to the early 20th century". His clients included museums such as the Birmingham Museum of Art. But then, a very strange thing happened. A few months ago Mr Kapoor disappeared. Not before threatening fellow blogger Damien Huffer for asking questions about the origins of certain items in his stock. Then gallery's website closed down. What is going on?
Now allegations are appearing in the Indian press that the gallery owner was arrested back in October last year in Germany over alleged involvement on thefts of sculptures in India. This includes the "sensational robbery of a centuries-old emerald idol of Lord Shiva from Sringeri Mutt in Kalady" three years ago.
Kapoor is also "believed to have masterminded the theft of 18 panchaloha idols from the Arulmigu Sundareswarar and Varadharaja Perumal temples at Suthamalli village in Ariyalur district on April 13, 2008". Ajay Kanth reports ('Cops unravel New York link to Sringeri idol theft' Times of India May 9th 2012):
State crime branch officials said they suspect Subhash Kapoor, an UP-born US citizen and antique smuggler who runs a gallery in New York, and is the public face of a clandestine international racket in ancient artefacts. Kapoor is allegedly behind a number of idol heists from Tamil Nadu as well, and police here surmise that he is involved in the burglary of five idols, similar to the Sringeri one, from other temples in Kerala. A report of the economic offences wing of the Tamil Nadu police reveals that Kapoor runs a private museum [sic] called Art of the Past and an export company, Nimbus Import Inc, in New York. He specialises in shipping out and selling stolen antiques to museums, private collectors and dealers through a wide network ranging across India, Pakistan, Dubai, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. Kapoor was arrested in Germany in October 2011 following a red corner notice issued by the CBI with the help of Interpol. "We will approach the TN police and are planning to make a joint effort to extradite him from Germany," a senior crime branch official, who requested anonymity, told [Times of India]. The TN police report points out that antique idols were shipped from Chennai harbour to US in two batches between May and July 2006. Kapoor paid a dollar equivalent of Rs 1,16,37,694 from his [...] Bank in New York to an accomplice identified as Sanjivi Asokan, suspected to be his point man in Chennai. Asokan was earlier arrested by a special team of the Kerala police in connection with the Sringeri case but it is only now that they became aware of his link with Kapoor.An earlier article (R Guhambika, 'Interpol notice for idol thief', Indian Express 12 Aug 2011) indicates that the looting gang contained twelve people and they had all been arrested already. The authorities had been alerted by a tip-off and arranged a 'sting' operation in Aruppukottai, Virudhunagar district, and seized some statues weighing a total of 30 kg and estimated to be 150 years old. Kapoor himself reportedly managed to get out of the country with some other stolen items. The newspaper adding:
“He also had the impudence to appear in a glossy magazine, posing for the camera with the stolen idols of Nataraja and Sivagami in the background,” the officer said. “
Personally, I think threatening archaeobloggers tends not to be a good idea. It may start people thinking whether there is indeed something behind what they say, and might even end up getting you arrested.