Major US Seizure Included Cambodian Artifacts

At least $3 million worth of Cambodian artifacts are part of a massive cache of smuggled antiquities that have been seized by New York authorities after being smuggled into the U.S. by an art dealer, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

After a two-yearlong investigation into the assets of New York City art dealer Subhash Kapoor, the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Tuesday asked a judge for permission to take custody of 2,622 relics worth more than $100 million that were stolen from various Asian countries, the Times reported.

The relics were confiscated from six of the art dealer’s galleries and storage spaces in a series of raids that began in 2012 known as “Operation Hidden Idol.” Altogether, the pieces uncovered during the raids represent the largest art seizure in U.S. history, according to the Times.

The cache includes several major Cambodian artifacts, including a $1.2-million Naga statue found in Mr. Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, according to court documents released by the newspaper.

There is also a group of Cambodian stone figures worth $700,000; two objects identified as “Khmer statues” worth $250,000 and $175,000; a Cambodian “standing figure on pedestal” also worth $175,000; an “elephant w/hat statue” worth $145,000; a “Khmer Vishnu sandstone wall fragment” worth $65,000; and a crowned Buddha worth $45,000; as well   as many other Cambodian statues worth tens of thousands of dollars.

In some cases, the artifacts are valued in groups; one group worth a total of $7.48 million includes an unspecified number of Cambodian relics. A $5-million “large bronze statue” reported to be from either Cambodia or Thailand was also seized.

Contacted Wednesday, Thay Norak Satia, a spokesman for the Culture Ministry, said he was unaware of the existence of the newly uncovered artifacts, noting that the latest agreement on antiquities between Cambodia and the U.S. government was regarding the repatriation of a Hanuman statue in the possession of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“I do not know about the artifacts that were stolen by the Indian man, but what we are working on is the Hanuman statue in the Cleveland Museum of Art,” he said.

In recent years, Cambodia has successfully pressed for the return of a series of important artifacts looted from Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province and eventually sold to U.S. auction houses and museums, including the Hanuman from Cleveland and other figures from the Metropolitan Museum in New York City and Sotheby’s auction house.

In addition to the antiquities seized in Operation Hidden Idol, U.S. museums own 500 items sold or donated by Mr. Kapoor, many of which have already returned artifacts believed to be illegal, according to the Times.

Mr. Kapoor is awaiting trial on India on charges of antiquities smuggling, but could be extradited to the U.S. when those legal proceedings are complete, the newspaper said.

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