U.S. Investigators Retrieve Cultural Objects from Kapoor's Rented Storage in New York - What Might Happen Next?

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Source: ICE
American authorities participating in the Subhash Kapoor investigation today seized cultural and religious artifacts from a storage facility in Manhattan, according to the New York Post.  The newspaper reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took away several dozen pieces.

Kapoor, an American citizen and owner of both Art of the Past gallery and Nimbus Import Export in Manhattan, is accused by police in India of involvement in antiquities trafficking.  Artifacts from Kapoor are reportedly located in American museums' collections.

The New York Post article describes today's raid and tells about a prior seizure of artifacts: 

"ICE said the probe into Kapoor had previously results in the seizure of dozens of antiquities worth nearly $10 million, including a five-foot tall head of Buddha weighing about 1,600 pounds and a life-sized stone figure weighing about 500 pounds. 'Both items were also seized from a storage unit allegedly leased by Kapoor in New York,' ICE said.

"ICE said that some of the artifacts previously seized in the probe had been displayed in 'major international museums worldwide,' and that other pieces that match those listed as stolen 'are still openly on display in some museums.'

"ICE also said that the Indian Consulate in New York contacted Homeland Security investigators in February 2007 asking for help in a probe of smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York."

It is unknown whether the raids in New York are part of a federal investigation into violations of U.S. criminal and/or import laws, or whether ICE executed the search warrants simply to support the investigation and prosecution of Kapoor in India.  In either case, federal authorities may be contacting museums across the United States that have acquired objects from Kapoor.  Forfeiture actions and/or search warrants may be forthcoming if Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) develops probable cause to believe that accessioned objects may be linked to illegal artifacts trafficking.

The New York Post article appears here in its entirety.

UPDATE 7/26/12: The New York Times is now reporting that the "Manhattan District Attorney’s office issued an arrest warrant for the dealer, Subhash Kapoor, on charges of possessing stolen property."

It should be remembered that prosecutors applying New York state law recently charged and convicted Arnold Peter Weiss, even as federal authorities worked with the Manhattan District Attorney's office to investigate the coin case.  This example of federal-state cooperation may be taking place now in the Kapoor case.  An arrest warrant issued for Kapoor by a county prosecutor's office (the New York County District Attorney, a.k.a. the Manhattan District Attorney) may signal the Manhattan DA's increased determination to deploy state law to combat culture crime.  In fact, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. recently concluded a prosecution that convicted ivory dealers under New York criminal law.  That case saw a collaborative investigation between the DA's office, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the federal United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&W).

Federal-state cooperation and the use of state criminal law--as opposed to federal criminal law--to prosecute international antiquities trafficking may be taking shape in New York City, which is the heart of the antiquities market.

The United States and India have an extradition treaty.

UPDATE 7/26/12: NBC4 in New York has video of the raid.


View more videos at: http://nbcnewyork.com.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com.  Text copyrighted 2012 Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC.  CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com