New York: US authorities have seized several stolen sandstone and bronze statues and other cultural artefacts with an estimated value of more than $20 million from a storage facility allegedly belonging to an Indian art dealer.
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has also issued an arrest warrant for Subhash Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past Gallery for alleged possession of stolen property, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) said in a statement.
Among the artefacts seized by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents were three Chola period bronzes, depicting Uma Parvati, Sivagami Amman; and Murugan, which are suspected of having been stolen directly from temples in India's Tamil Nadu state.
Other seized items include a sandstone statue depicting Kubera, chief of the Yakshas, from the Indian Gupta period; a grey schist statue depicting Herkules-Vajrapani from the Kandahran Kushan period; and a sculpture depicting Shakyamuni Buddham from the Indian Chola period.
Some of the seized stolen artefacts have been displayed in major international museums worldwide. Other pieces that match those listed as stolen are still openly on display in some museums, HSI said.
"The statues and sculptures recovered today are worth millions in the antiquities business, but they are priceless to the nations that they were robbed from," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York.
HSI said in February 2007, the Indian consulate contacted it requesting assistance in the investigation of the potential smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York.
The Indian consulate advised HSI that an import and export company was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as "Marble Garden Table Sets".
The consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities. This merchandize was allegedly imported by Kapoor.
By the end of January 2012, HSI special agents had seized dozens of antiquities with an estimated value of nearly $10 million.
These included one five foot tall head of a Buddha weighing about 1,600 pounds; and one life sized stone figure weighing about 500 pounds, seized from a storage unit allegedly leased by Kapoor in New York.
Kapoor, who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport. On July 14, 2012, Kapoor was extradited to India, where he faced criminal charges.