Saturday, 7 December 2013

Kapoor Assistant Pleads Guilty Over Looted Items

Until last year, Aaron M. Freedman assisted in the running of Subhash Kapoor’s art gallery, Art of the Past, on Madison Avenue at 89th Street in Manhattan. He'd worked for the firm 20 years.
On Wednesday, Mr. Freedman, 41, of Princeton, N.J., admitted in New York Supreme Court that he also helped Mr. Kapoor manage the shipment and sale of more than 150 items of looted Indian statuary, items in many cases dating back some 2,000 years. Mr. Freedman pleaded guilty on Wednesday to [felony conspiracy and five counts of felony] criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million and agreed, under his plea, to help Manhattan and federal investigators with their prosecution of Mr. Kapoor, who is accused of smuggling more than $100 million in antiquities from India into the United States. Mr. Kapoor, 64, is in prison in India but is expected to be extradited for trial in the United States next year. [...] Authorities said that Mr. Freedman handled the day-to-day details of the gallery for Mr. Kapoor, while also helping to pay off smugglers, concoct false shipping and ownership papers, and arranging for sales to often unsuspecting collectors and museums.
Mr. Freedman’s lawyer, said his client was eager to “take concrete steps to rectify his serious mistakes”. He may well be, but can the damage done by this trade ever be rectified? But as the Chasing Aphrodite blog note, that Kapoor's gallery manager has agreed to cooperate with the authorities "spells trouble for museums with looted Kapoor material". Collectors too I guess.

Rick St Hilaire has a piece on this case. 'NY Heritage Trafficking Conviction Provides a Model for Prosecutions and Investigations', Friday, December 6, 2013. He highlights the role of New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos who have demonstrated the will to prosecute crimes that destroy humanity's culture and identity, and points out that this "desire to make a difference is notably in the hands of attorneys in art market-rich Manhattan".

The importance of Wednesday's guilty plea by Aaron Freedman in the Kapoor heritage trafficking case must not be overlooked.[...]   shows that state prosecutions can successfully target heritage criminals, and that state and federal cooperation makes a difference [...] .  Freedman's conviction in state court and under state criminal law --not federal law--sets an example for prosecutors in other state and county jurisdictions to take on these cases too. The message that transnational cultural heritage trafficking cases can be prosecuted in local courthouses like any other large-scale conspiracy or stolen property ring is an important one for prosecutors to hear.

Tom Mashberg, 'Assistant to Accused Antiquities Smuggler Pleads Guilty to Possessing Looted Items', New York Times December 4, 2013.

There is a very good account of the Kapoor affair here: Adam Matthews  "The man who Sold The World", GQ India 5th Dec 2013. Credits Damien Huffer. 

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