US authorities have seized more than $1 million in Asian antiquities looted from Yale University

Homeland Security agents seized more than a dozen looted Asian antiques, worth a total of $1.29 million, from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, this week. The stolen artworks were all linked to Subhash Kapoor, the disgraced art dealer who faces charges in the United States and India for allegedly running a $143 million art smuggling ring.

“Yale University, having received information indicating that works of art from its collections were stolen in their home country, delivered the works on March 30, 2022 to the New York District Attorney’s Office, which will coordinate the repatriation of the items later this year,” the university said in a statement. “Yale was pleased to work cooperatively with the DA’s office in this important case.”

The Yale University Art Gallery’s online catalog, which presumably has not yet been updated, still contains 14 Kapoor-related works, four of which are listed as being on display. Seven others could be seen by appointment at the university’s Wurtele Study Center and Duffy Study Hall.

News of the seizure was first reported by the local NBC affiliate, which noted that all of the artifacts were from India except one from Burma. The university declined to provide further comment to Artnet News.

Gajalakshmi (12th-13th century). This sandstone sculpture from Orissa, India, was acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery in 2017, but passed through Kapoor Galleries, allegedly the operators of a major Asian antiquities smuggling ring. It is likely one of 13 works from the Yale collection seized by Homeland Security for repatriation. Collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, gift of the Rubin-Ladd Foundation under the bequest of Ester R. Portnow.

Many Yale artifacts that appear to be related to Kapoor come from the Rubin-Ladd Foundation, which may have donated its illegally imported antiquities to museums across the United States and beyond. The merchant’s connection to the American arts and cultural foundation was uncovered by volunteer researchers from the India Pride Project in a report released last summer. But Kapoor’s illicit activities have been in the spotlight for much longer.

US authorities were first alerted to Kapoor in 2011, after he was arrested in Germany for smuggling. Investigations revealed caches of 2,600 artifacts from Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand, among other countries – all with false provenance papers – in its New York warehouses. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint against Kapoor in 2019.

Kapoor is currently being held in Trichy prison in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu for theft and illegal export of antiquities. The United States plans to extradite Kapoor upon his release and try him here, but it is possible that other regional governments in India will also take legal action against him.

Hanuman (15th-16th century).  This bronze sculpture from India was acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006, but passed through the hands of Kapoor Galleries, allegedly the operators of a major Asian antiquities smuggling ring.  It is likely one of 13 works from the Yale collection seized by Homeland Security for repatriation.  Collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, gift of the Rubin-Ladd Foundation under the bequest of Ester R. Portnow.

Hanuman (15th-16th century). This bronze sculpture from India was acquired by the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006, but passed through the Kapoor Galleries, allegedly the operators of a major Asian antiquities smuggling ring. It is likely one of 13 works from the Yale collection seized by Homeland Security for repatriation. Collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, gift of the Rubin-Ladd Foundation under the bequest of Ester R. Portnow.

“We hope other states will take this seriously by prosecuting the perpetrators, as Kapoor’s suppliers are still very active, looting and smuggling our antiquities,” Vijay Kumar, a self-proclaimed “idol hunter” who has contributed to efforts to return looted Indian antiquities and co-founded the India Pride project, the India time.

In the meantime, the art stolen by Kapoor is slowly but surely coming home. Last April, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. returned 33 of Kapoor’s looted antiquities to Afghanistan. In June, Vance handed over 24 illicitly exported artifacts linked to the dealer to Cambodia. In October, another 235 stolen works of art that passed through Kapoor’s hands were returned to India.

Other institutions involved include the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

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