I've been holding off writing about this one a while, trying to work out what's happening. What is clear is that this is another US photo-op AATS (Apprehended Art Trophy Show) with all the usual bla-bla. But what is behind it is less easy to ascertain from the reports. The gist of the story is that U.S. authorities ('working with India"), have seized five bronze statues, including an antique Goddess Parvati idol worth millions of dollars, stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu in south India and "allegedly sold by [...] antique smuggler, Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing criminal charges in India". It is that bit which is the puzzle. Subhas Kapoor was arrested in Frankfurt in late 2011 and extradicted to India July this year to face criminal charges, but:
Special agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, in cooperation with the Customs and Border Protection, Dec. 5 seized the bronze Parvati statue and four bronze figures from Tamil Nadu estimated to be worth more than $5 million at the Port of Newark [...] The agents were working in cooperation with the Government of India, Interpol and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.It appears that it was only after Kapoor's extradition to India that the US authorities stepped in and actually took a look at what the dealer had in his stockrooms. This was after he'd been operating in the US for four decades (reportedly with only one slipup in 2007 which apparently did not provoke any wider action). So, at the end of July 2012, HSI special agents seized dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $100 million, including a five-foot tall head of Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds, a bronze sculpture depicting Uma Parvati valued at nearly $2.5 million, and a second century BC Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at nearly $18 million. US officials are now alleging that Kapoor reated false collecting histories for the artefacts to disguise the origins of his illicit antiquities and the routes by which they reached the US. Now the US authorities are making a big thing about the discovery that Kapoor's "alleged smuggling of cultural artifacts worth more than an estimated $100 million makes him one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world today" (that's special agent in charge of HSI New York James Hayes quoted there). Well, goodness me. and ALL of that was going on through the barrier of bubbles that is the US Customs system? For forty years? And ICE are just brushing that off and congratulating themselves that though they missed this all going on right under their noses for forty years, but now they've found out?
This is riduiculous. What however is more worrying is the suspicion that what is really going on is the US might well nothing more than trying to create a case here for Kapoor's extradition back to the US to get him out of an Indian jail. Just like the squaddie who allegedly went out twice at night from a US army camp in Afghanistan, allegedly murdered a whole lot of people in cold blood, set fire to their bodies and then was quickly whisked on a plane back to the US so he does not have to face his accusers in the country where the alleged crime took place. Scandal. Building a Big Case against Kapoor is, I bet, a ruse to get him out of India to face "American justice" where after a show trial where he says "sorry", he gets the slap-on-the-wrist-sentence that the US judiciary hand down in culture-crime cases and sent home.
This is also very telling, but at the same time confusing:
The ICE said even though the Parvati statue had been placed on Interpol's 'Stolen Works of Art' database, it had passed through the hands of six different dealers over as many years. The statue had been in Europe and was being aggressively pursued by the city's federal agents.So the object was stolen and started its wanderings six years ago, and has passed through the hands of five other dealers including some in Europe, but it was only seized in the Port of Newark on December 5th this year (?) but is in some way being linked with Subhash Kapoor who has for a year been in foreign jails. Is he now being alleged to have been continuing his activities from his jail cell? Have these objkects been lost at sea (or in a Jersey port warehouse) for a year and only now turned up? Or is something else involved? Who was the consigner of the seized objects, and what else was in the consignment with the seized items? How did the paperwork describe these objects ?
Uttara Choudhury, 'US seizes Parvati bronze sold by antiques crook ‘Indian Jones’...', Firstpost World Dec 7, 2012
[News Dispatches], 'Stolen Statues Worth $5 Million Seized in Newark', India West, Dec 06, 2012