Who Is Subhash Kapoor, The American Antiquities Dealer Who Smuggled Looted Artifacts?

Subhash Kapoor, American and Indian artifact collector, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in India for smuggling offenses on November 1, 2022 (via Hyperallergic). According to the Center for Art Law, Kapoor was a well-esteemed antiquities dealer and owned a popular gallery in New York City, the Art of the Past. In 2011, Kapoor was in Frankfurt, Germany, where he was arrested and eventually extradited to India to await trial for his criminal dealings. 

Kapoor had been being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security in the United States since sometime in the early 2000s when they were investigating his shipments between New York and India (via Center for Art Law). After an investigation and many different testimonies, it became apparent that Kapoor's illegal trade not only encompassed the United States and India but also Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (per the Center for Art Law).

The start of his career

Subhash Kapoor had connections to many major established art galleries in the world. He sold stolen artifacts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Australia, Yale University Art Gallery, the Toledo Museum in Ohio, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (per Hyperallergic). According to Live History India, he got his start with antiques and artifacts when he was a boy after seeing his father's expansive collection of Islamic manuscripts. 

In 1962, Parshottam Ram Kapoor, Subhash's father, opened his own antique shop in India, which mainly specialized in Pahari paintings (via Live History India). Pahari paintings were a particular style of painting in India dating back somewhere between the 17th-19th centuries, according to Britannica. Subhash emigrated to the United States in 1974, the same year when he opened his shop, Art of the Past. His connections with officials in the Indian government were what helped him start smuggling thousands of artifacts across the world.

What he stole

Subhash Kapoor had already served 11 years in jail prior to being sentenced to 10 in prison, and this was because of his indictments from the United States. Kapoor was indicted with conspiracy, grand larceny, and criminal possession of stolen property, according to CNN. He was also charged with smuggling, and the Manhattan District Attorney's Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered 2,500 stolen artifacts and counting that are worth up to $143 million (via CNN).

Many of the artifacts that Kapoor stole or trafficked to buyers were relics honoring Eastern religious deities, such as Hindu or Buddhist statues. Two of these Buddhist statues were from Sri Lanka and were estimated to be $66,000, according to the Center for Art Law. Other Buddhist statues were stolen from countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, and Afghanistan, which caused some discourse in light of the Taliban destroying many Buddhist sculptures after taking control of the country two decades earlier.