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Valuable statues smuggled from Tamil Nadu temples seized at US port

Thursday, 6 December 2012 - 3:10pm IST | Place: NEW YORK | Agency: PTI

Special agents with Homeland Security Investigations along with the US Customs seized a bronze Parvati statue and four bronze figures from Tamil Nadu estimated to be worth over $5 million at the Port of Newark.

US 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 and allegedly sold by an Indian antique smuggler. The Parvati statue, a cultural property of India, is one of many items stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and allegedly sold by an Indian antique smuggler Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing criminal charges in India.

Special agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in cooperation with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 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. Kapoor was the subject of an Interpol red notice and was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt international airport in Germany. He was extradited to India in July this year to face criminal charges.

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. It is the fifth bronze Chola statue allegedly stolen and sold by Kapoor that has been recovered by HSI in the past year.

Kapoor's "alleged smuggling of cultural artifacts worth more than an estimated 100 million dollars makes him one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world today," special agent in charge of HSI New York James Hayes said in a statement. Hayes urged the art community to help the agency identify artifacts sold or donated by Kapoor. "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the government of India to bring Kapoor to justice and return the artifacts in question to their rightful owners," he added.

India's consul general in New York Prabhu Dayal voiced appreciation for the ICE in "retrieving and recovering priceless antiquities illegally brought into the US by smuggling syndicates".

In February 2007, the Indian consulate had contacted HSI seeking assistance in the investigation of the potential smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York.

The Indian consulate had informed the HSI that an import and export company was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates of stolen Indian antiquities, which were smuggled into the US under the guise of marble garden table sets. The merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

By the end of July 2012, HSI special agents had 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.

The extensive investigation found that Kapoor allegedly created false points of origin for the artifacts to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities.

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