ICE Seizes Stolen Indian Artifacts from Fifth Century

Most immigrants are familiar with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as being the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is true that ICE, which was created in 2003, spends much of its $6 billion budget on immigration enforcement operations. But this government entity has another important, if less publicized, responsibility – investigating and intercepting import and export violations, to include drugs and arms trafficking, as well as art and antiquities theft and smuggling.

Two officials from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), an Indian government agency focused on protecting and preserving its cultural monuments, arrived in the United States recently after they were alerted to the seizure of over 100 Indian artifacts by ICE. The artifacts were removed from the storage facilities of a New York-based art dealer, Subhash Kapoor, who was arrested in 2011 for operating an international smuggling ring valued at over $100 million. The recovered artifacts included terracotta figurines dating as far back as the 5th century AD and originating from the Gupta Empire.

Dr. Urmila Sant and P.S. Siraman, the two ASI officials who traveled to the U.S. to inspect the stolen artifacts, eventually determined that 17 bronze and stone statues were items of significant historical value that had been pilfered from the Suttamalli and Sirpurantan temples of India’s Tamil Nadu region. And an additional 56 terracotta statues, once displayed by the Toledo Museum in Ohio, were returned to the Indian Consulate after it was confirmed they had been gifted to the museum illegally by Kapoor.

The theft and illegal sale of antiquities from across the globe threatens to deprive future generations from learning about the cultures and peoples that preceded them. ICE presently is coordinating with the ASI to return these priceless ancient artifacts to India. Meanwhile, Mr. Kapoor was extradited to India and is currently in police custody.

[See ASI identifies Indian artefacts Seized from Smuggler Subhash Kapoor, The Hindu, 05.May.2019.]


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