The United States has repatriated 192 stolen antiquities collectively valued at $3.4 million to Pakistan after an investigation into an Indian-American art dealer and other criminal investigations.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York announced on its website Thursday that 187 of the artifacts were recovered from Subhash Kapoor, identifying him as “one of the world’s most prolific antiquities traffickers.”
The statement said Kapoor and his codefendants smuggled looted antiquities into Manhattan and sold them through his gallery, Art of the Past.
“We will continue to pursue full accountability against Mr. Kapoor and his co-conspirators, who showed a blatant disregard for the cultural and historic significant [sic] of these antiquities,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was quoted as saying.
The U.S. statement noted that five India-based co-defendants and Kapoor had been held in prison in the South Asian nation since 2012 for charges relating to his role selling stolen Indian antiquities.
Last week, the six men were convicted and sentenced by a special court in India.
“Kapoor was convicted for receiving stolen property, habitually dealing in stolen property, and conspiracy, and fined and sentenced to thirteen years in prison,” the statement said. It added that the Manhattan district attorney’s office is seeking Kapoor’s extradition to pursue his prosecution in the United States.
The antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Pakistani consulate in New York where U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Acocella and Pakistani Consul General Ayesha Ali were present.
Ali was quoted as praising the efforts of the U.S authorities. She noted that over the past two years, 237 artifacts, including an earlier batch of 45 items, from Pakistan’s northwestern Gandhara region have now been returned to Pakistan.
Among the 192 items returned Thursday are a Gandhara statue depicting Maitreya, or an enlightened Buddha, and Mehrgarh Dolls between roughly 4,500 to 5,500 years old.
“These objects belong to the Gandhara Buddhist civilization, having typical Greek and local influences and features,” Bakht Muhammad, a senior researcher at the provincial Archaeology department in the northeastern city of Peshawar, told VOA.
“Mostly these are Kushan period objects,” he said, in reference to the Kushan Dynasty, which ruled most of the northern Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia during the first three centuries of the Christian era.
The antiquities were looted from a Neolithic archaeological site in Pakistan before being trafficked to New York. They were placed in a storage unit rented by agents of the Art of the Past until their seizure by U.S. authorities this year.
The archaeological site of Mehrgarh in Pakistan was discovered by archaeologists in 1974 and subsequently faced looting.
“Among the earliest human-crafted figurines in the world, these terracotta artifacts are thought to represent mother goddesses or a cultic figure for worship,” the U.S. statement noted.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office says it has recovered more than 2,500 artifacts trafficked by Kapoor and his network from numerous countries between 2011 and 2022. It estimates that the total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.