Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 27 antiques valued at approximately $ 3.8 million to the Cambodian people in a repatriation ceremony attended by the Cambodian Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, HE Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, Ambassador of Cambodia to the United States, Chum Sounry and US Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Special Agent in charge Erik Rosenblatt.
“The repatriation of these 27 superb relics to the Cambodian people reestablishes an important link between the classical era of Angkor and its modern customs and beliefs which, for too long, have been disrupted by the greed of traffickers of stolen antiques,” said said the district attorney. Vance. âToday’s event is a powerful reminder that individuals who loot and sell items of cultural significance commit crimes not only against a country’s heritage, but also against its present and future. I would like to thank the Antiques Trafficking Unit in my office and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their tireless efforts which have resulted in the return of nearly 400 treasures in 10 countries over the past year. I look forward to further repatriations in the near future.
âHomeland Security Investigations is committed to combating the looting of cultural heritage and the illicit trafficking of cultural property,â said Special Agent in charge of HSI New York, Peter C. Fitzhugh. âToday, more than two dozen antiques are returned to the Cambodian people; and although the underground market value of these items runs into the millions, these coins are invaluable for the preservation of Cambodian history. HSI New York is proud to have worked this investigation with DANY which led to the ultimate return of these objects to their country of origin, as each artefact is a testament to Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage.
âThis ceremony is a tribute to the cooperation between our two countries in preventing the looting and trafficking of Khmer artifacts,â said W. Patrick Murphy, US Ambassador to Cambodia. âThe United States is proud to play a role in securing the cultural heritage of the Cambodian people. “
âThe win-win policy of the royal government which brought peace to Cambodia is a solid basis for the preservation of the culture of the country,â said HE Dr Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts. âRepatriation proves that even under the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia remains committed to finding and bringing back the souls of our ancestors who left their homeland for many years, including during times of war. Cambodia sincerely thanks and congratulates the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, HSI and all relevant authorities such as the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the United States Embassy in Cambodia. The Minister also thanks other individuals and private institutions, including Museums Partner, who have supported this important achievement, including the transport of these priceless statues to Cambodia for the benefit of the Cambodian people and the world.
The items returned today include 24 seized as part of the SUBHASH KAPOOR investigation, as well as three as part of the NANCY WIENER investigation.
For many years, the Manhattan DA Antiques Trafficking Unit, in conjunction with law enforcement partners at HSI, investigated KAPOOR and his co-conspirators for looting, exporting and the illegal sale of ancient art from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and other countries. KAPOOR and his co-defendants typically smuggled looted antiques into Manhattan and sold the pieces through KAPOOR’s Art of the Past gallery based on Madison Avenue. From 2011 to 2020, the DA office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 objects tampered with by KAPOOR and its network. The total value of parts recovered exceeds $ 143 million.
The DA office first issued an arrest warrant against KAPOOR in 2012. In July 2019, a complaint and a series of arrest warrants against KAPOOR and seven co-accused were filed and an indictment was filed. filed in October 2019. In July 2020, the DA office filed extradition documents for KAPOOR, who is currently in prison in India awaiting the completion of his ongoing trial in Tamil Nadu.
The three non-Kapoor exhibits returned to Cambodia result from the investigation by WIENER, who was charged in December 2016 with criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree, criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree, and conspiracy in the fourth degree. . Between at least 1999 and 2016, WIENER reportedly used his New York-based Nancy Wiener Gallery to buy, smuggle, launder and sell millions of dollars in antiques stolen in Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.
Objects repatriated to Cambodia today included several Angkorian and Hindu Buddhist statues such as a bronze meditating Buddha on a Naga, a statue of Shiva, and a sandstone Buddhist sculpture of Prajnaparamita.
As of today’s ceremony, the prosecutor’s office has returned 390 antiquities to 10 countries since August 2020, including, in recent months, three objects in Nepal, a pair of statutes in Sri Lanka, 13 artifacts in Thailand, and 33 relics in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the prosecutor’s office repatriated 12 treasures in China during a ceremony at the Chinese Consulate General in New York.
Manhattan DA Antique Trafficking Unit
To date, the first of its kind from DA Antiques Trafficking Unit recovered several thousand stolen antiques collectively valued at over $ 175 million. Several hundred of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin, including a total of 390 objects in 10 countries since August 2020. Several hundred more are ready for repatriation as soon as the countries concerned will be able to. to receive them in the midst of the pandemic. But more than a thousand are to be detained pending criminal prosecution of the traffickers. Items already returned include a pair of buddha statues in Sri Lanka; a Egyptian limestone stele dating from 664 BCE, 45 antiques dating from 2sdCentury in Pakistan; a golden coffin stolen in Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution in 2011; three Lebanese marble statues; a Roman mosaic excavated from the ships of Nemi; a Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a fragment of a marble sarcophagus; a buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological excavation site; a pair of 12th century Indian statues; a collection of Bronze statues from the 8th century BC; and one set of ancient greek coins, among others.
Assistant DA Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Counsel and Head of the Antiques Trafficking Unit, handled the recovery of the artifacts with investigative analysts Alyssa Thiel and Apsara Iyer and Special Agents John Paul Labbat and Brenton Easter.
District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and Minister Sackona for their assistance in this matter.