Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. handed over 33 looted antiquities valued at roughly $1.8 million to Afghan officials yesterday at a repatriation ceremony in New York.
The objects are linked to disgraced antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, from whom U.S. authorities have recovered more than 2,500 relics from all over the world at a total estimated value of $143 million.
“Crimes of culture involving looted and stolen religious relics, such as the nearly two dozen Buddhist statues being repatriated today to the people of Afghanistan, not only tear at the societal fabric of nations, but also deprive millions of believers worldwide of the earlier sacred symbols of their faith,” Vance said in a statement.
He added that since last August, his team has repatriated 338 stolen objects to seven countries. “And we look forward to future ceremonies announcing the return of additional items to their rightful owners,” he added.
Yesterday’s ceremony was attended by Afghan ambassador to the U.S., Roya Rahmani, as well as acting special agent in charge Eric Silverman of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The preservation of Afghanistan’s heritage and history is paving the path for civilization and society to grow,” Rahmani said, calling the recovered pieces “irreplaceable pieces of Afghanistan’s diverse culture and rich history.”
Kapoor is currently being held at a jail in India pending completion of a trial in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which issued an arrest warrant for Kapoor in 2012, also filed extradition paperwork for his return to the U.S. last summer.
The antiquities – unit of the D.A. has been investigating Kapoor and his co-conspirators since 2011, tracking illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, and other nations.
Kapoor and seven others allegedly smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold the pieces through the dealer’s Madison Avenue gallery, Art of the Past, according to the D.A.
“Artifacts of historical or cultural significance allow the public to experience a nation’s heritage and these items shouldn’t be offered as souvenirs for sale to the highest bidder,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of Homeland Security in New York.