Manhattan DA Announces Return of Trafficked Antiquities to Pakistan

May 27, 2024

|

By 

Elle Yap

The District Attorney (D.A.) of Manhattan in New York announced on Wednesday, May 22, that the United States government will be returning 133 trafficked antiquities seized from art trafficking operations back to the government of Pakistan. 

A Gandharan headpiece from Pakistan, akin to the trafficked antiques of Subhash Kapoor. Photo by Jnzl's Public Domain Photos. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A Gandharan headpiece from Pakistan, akin to the trafficked antiques of Subhash Kapoor. Photo by Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The announcement came as D.A. Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. returned the works in a ceremony with Pakistani Consul General Aamer Ahmed Atozai, among others in attendance. Both Bragg and Atozai praised the return as essential to ensuring the legality of any artwork or artifact shown here.

“These artifacts are now being returned to where they belong. This repatriation is more than the return of physical objects; it is the restoration of a part of Pakistan’s soul and identity,” Atozai said.

Art Trafficking Networks

The press release by the government underlined the seizure of these antiques from criminal trafficking networks targeting them specifically. The DA linked two prolific art traffickers, Subhash Kapoor and Richard Beale, to the case.

Kapoor is described as “one of the world’s most prolific antiquities smugglers” by the press and authorities. A former gallery owner in New York, authorities accused him of leading an art smuggling operation in South and Southeast Asia. He sold his smuggled goods through his gallery Art of the Past, with the value of his smuggled goods exceeding $143 million. 

A work from India previously donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Subhash Kapoor in 2003. Photo provided by MET Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A work from India previously donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Subhash Kapoor in 2003. Photo provided by MET Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Authorities collected over 2,500 smuggled artifacts from their investigation of Kapoor’s network over the past decade. Authorities arrested him and five of his co-conspirators, and charged them with illegal looting and exploitation of artifacts. Kapoor is currently awaiting extradition to India where he will serve ten years in prison. 

Beale, meanwhile, was captured by authorities after attempting to smuggle antique gold coins into the country. He reportedly acquired his gold coins from dealer Italo Vecchi, who has had his own share of notoriety for his decades of sales for such antique coins. Courts convicted both of them for trafficking-related charges in 2023. 

Authorities are still investigating Beale and Vecchi’s network in their attempt to dismantle it.

“These 133 pieces of stolen history were being sold through black-market deals at the hands of antiquities traffickers. HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) stands at the forefront in investigating crimes related to the unlawful trafficking and dissemination of cultural treasures and ancient relics,” Special Agent Ivan Arvelo said. 

Pakistani Artifacts

The Manhattan DA highlighted some of the returned artifacts. This includes a Gold Strato I Coin allegedly minted sometime between 105-85 B.C.E. The DA also showcased a stone head of a Bodhisattva wearing an “elaborate headdress with central lotus flower.” The former was taken from Beale’s arrest, while the latter was found in a storage facility owned by Kapoor.

Antique gold coins akin to the one trafficked by Richard Beale from Pakistan. Photo provided by Cleveland Art Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Antique gold coins akin to the one trafficked by Richard Beale from Pakistan. Photo provided by Cleveland Art Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Bragg featured this act of repatriation as an important part of Manhattan’s image as an international place of culture. “We will continue to celebrate Manhattan’s status as one of the cultural capitals of the world, while doing everything possible to ensure that the antiquities sitting in our galleries and museums arrived here legally,” he said. 

Related reading: Why Won’t the UK Return Looted Artifacts to Their Countries of Origin?

Two onlookers in front of Pete Jimenez's exhibit. Photo by Elle Yap.

‘Travel Light’: Pete Jimenez Finds Life in Construction Detritus

Travel Light, Pete Jimenez’s newest exhibit at Artinformal Gallery in Makati, supplies its central thesis within the subtitle. “Take nothing for the journey – keep it simple; no bag, no bread, no money.” It references a verse in the Bible, but within this context, it exemplifies a non-consumerist take on our existence. Shift with the […]

UArts with a flying Pride flag in the foreground. Photo by Beyond My Ken. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Philadelphia University of the Arts Shutters, Leaving Students in Limbo

Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, also known as UArts, suddenly closed down the institution on Friday, June 7. The sudden closure, of which faculty and students weren’t even informed of until the press announcement, triggered protests from the campus population.  UArts’ administration said that the institution was facing declining revenue rates and enrollment. In a […]

The Ultimate Guide to Future Proofing Your Home.

The Ultimate Guide to Future Proofing Your Home

Future proofing focuses on improving your home in order to prepare it for the challenges and opportunities of the future. Along with this, this concept also maximizes your comfort and enjoyment today with smart design choices and innovative technologies. This may come in different styles and priorities depending on the users’ interest and needs. But […]

The Parthenon Marbles in display at the British Museum. Photo by Dominic's pics. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Brits Refuse Return of Parthenon Marbles After Turkey Finds No Proof of Claim

The British Museum refused calls to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece after Turkey rejected the long-standing claim by the United Kingdom that the statues were acquired by Lord Elgin from the Ottoman empire at the time.  The statement from Turkey came during a UNESCO meeting in Paris, France. A British official parroted the claim […]

6 Historical Places in the Philippines that Celebrate Its Independence.

6 Historical Places in the Philippines that Celebrate Its Independence

The journey to Philippine independence is a story of valor, sacrifice, and unwavering resolve. This narrative is not only preserved in books and memories but also enshrined in the country’s architectural landmarks. These edifices stand as silent witnesses to pivotal moments in history, each contributing to the nation’s quest for freedom. In commemorating Independence Day, […]

One of the buildings for SAMA Square Market. Photo by Heart Patrick Photography.

SAMA Square Market: Accessible Community Spaces Made for the People

The nature of public spaces continues to evolve. Beyond just looking attractive, they must serve multiple purposes to benefit the community effectively. We see those decisions at work at the SAMA Square Market and how welcoming it is to people of different stripes and backgrounds.  SAMA Square Market is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. TKCA […]

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]