Sunday, 22 March 2020

Nailing down an Indian idol and art thief Subbash Kapoor - the man who looted Tamil Nadu until 2011

Idol & art thief Subhash Kapoor,.timesofindia.com
Intl.Indian art & idol smuggler. Subhash Kapoor, now in Puzhal prison in TN. chasingaphrodite.com
On my several posts in my blog, I mentioned about the increasing nefarious activities of some unscrupulous people  in the govt. department that manages  vast Hindu temples, their age-old valuable metal idols of  deities, artifacts, etc.,  their lands and buildings. They are supposed to be guardians of Hindu places of workshop, but they tuned out to be institutionalized criminals. The govt. is keeping a check on them and take action; but the progress is a slow one.  I heard many people say that such dishonest employees are neither god-fearing nor do they respect the sanctity of such  holy places  or sentiments of devotees coming there for prayer and peace of mind.  
Though more than 1200 idol theft cases are pending before the Judiciary courts in Tamil Nadu state  less than 60 have been solved so far. The crux of the problem is once the idol is stolen, it keeps changing hands and places. Besides jurisdiction problems, for the tailing cops, the trail is  so long, at the fag end they become fatigued and lose the last thread that may lead them to the culprits. So, Countless cases  either go cold or remain unsolved due to loss of solid evidence or poor lead. In many cases, the kingpins of such operations remain Scott-free and as the punishment and investigations are not intense...
(http://navrang1.rssing.com/chan-58541628/all_p58.html).
Kapoor's loot. bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com
In the last two  decades, stealing of temple idols became a big  money-spinning business, in particular, in Tamil Nadu. International smuggling groups are responsible for the theft of such Hindu temple  antiques,  stone images, etc., and they know how to net the govt. employees for a fat price.   The TN Govt,'s  ''idol wing police '' was after one international Indian idol and art  mafia Subhash Chandra Kapoor, who,  with his brother,  was running an art gallery in New York city. Hailing from a family of Indian art dealers, the smooth-talking, urbane Kapoor, India born but a naturalized American citizen, was the owner of  a posh and spendy gallery at 1242 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. It  was his front and Kapoor was selling the stolen idols, etc from India  through it with falsified documents. This man was so smart that he took the US Customs officials for a ride and had been selling stolen art works  for years  without raising  their  suspicion.

Never did Kapoor realize that he had caused irreparable loss of India's cultural  and religious legacy  and one day he would run low on luck.   It was on October 30, 2011, this  high-flying  Hindu idol thief  then 62 years old, was nabbed  at Frankfurt international airport, after Interpol issued a red corner alert. His arrest and later arraignment by the cops  revealed  his dark underworld smuggling activities  and his nuances in this risky  business of stealing of India's temple idols, etc and exporting to overseas country with a false  record/certificate. Kapoor's  story  and his wheeling and dealing leading to his arrest in Germany has all the ingredients of a soap opera - greed,  chasing money, love-affair, retribution, etc all rolled into one.
ICE of the US. chasingaphrodite.com
In was in  December 2012,  US Federal authorities announced  that they had  seized an estimated $100 million worth of ancient art linked to Subhash Kapoor, the New York  based art dealer currently facing  many court cases and trial in India  and an arrest warrant in the United States. Reason:  For his alleged role in an international smuggling racket stealing antique Hindu idols and artwork  from India.  The FBI’s art squad had  seized a total of $150 million in art from this con man's  gallery  since its inception in 2004, according to its website.
US Customes officerJames T. Hayes chasingaphrodite.com
Said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes  (shown above with the seized objects.) about Subhash Kapoor, “In our view, Mr Kapoor is one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world,”....it’s one of our most significant antiquities and artifacts investigations that we’ve conducted in the history of this agency.”. Indeed a great con artist who had hoodwinked the tough US customs for a pretty long time.

The  2012 seizures revealed were valued at $5 million and secured with cooperation from Customs and Border Protection, the Manhattan DA’s (District Administration) office, Interpol and Indian authorities. They include a 14th Century bronze Parvati figure from the Chola dynasty that was surrendered to ICE by an unnamed dealer in Europe. “Even though the statue had been placed on the Interpol Stolen Works of Art Database, the Parvati idol had passed through the hands of six different dealers and been given multiple layers of false provenance (early history) over the past six years,”  Officer Hayes said. In addition, four bronze figures were seized in recent months that are believed to have been stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu

 Hayes  mentioned  about the detailed investigation into Kapoor's operations, dubbed Operation Hidden Idol,  a history of his 4 decade clandestine artwork smuggling operation  as a visible, high-profile Manhattan dealer  who sold antiquated objects to museums around the world. Those include  a staggering  figure -more than 200 objects. The US Customs did not keep quiet and they asked the museums and buyers to contact them if they had bought or had dealings with Kapoor.  ''We have already received several calls from law firms representing people who had acquired pieces through Kapoor and were concerned about whether they were in possession of stolen goods.”  the officer said. ''Since 2007 about  6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries''. .....“At the end of the day, our primary responsibility is to get stolen property back to its rightful owners.”
Very scant details are available about  Subash Kapoor's romantic escapades with  his ex-girl friend named Grace Paramaspry Punusamy.  She was  the daughter of a Tamil father and a Chinese mother and she  sold Kapoor's artifacts on consignment basis.  They  began dating soon after they met in 1997 and later  she, having gained his trust,  became his business partner and created a chain of dealers and supplier in SE Asia. He began using her as a cover for 'provenance' paperwork.  Grace  became an adept in creating  fake  or falsified  ownership records for the artifacts to  help Kapoor sell them to reputed  museums -- paperwork actually signed by Grace for his artifact.  For some  reasons their relationship in 2008 turned sour  over  her artwork shop in Singapore and the couple approached the Singapore Court for a settlement. The verdict went against Grace and later her place was taken over by  another woman -Selina Mohamed.
Subash Kapoor's ex-girl friend sent him to the slammer. rediff.com
In 2009 when  the Brooklyn Museum announced on its website about the new arrival -  a  fine piece of Chola-era Shiva idol, Grace  Punusamy, who knew Kapoor's  illegal smuggling activities, indirectly blew the first whistle on him by way of posting messages questioning the place of origin of Shiva' idol. Ever watchful ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement)' officer named Brenton Easter and his team  had begun to dig to build  a case against Kapoor and his operation.

In the mean time Grace, driven by conscience and as a sort of reparation for her association with Kapoor,  was aiding the  Indian authorities in their pursuit to pin down Kapoor.  She kept them posted by sending his photos and travel information. With Interpol in the fray,  the cops made a quick move and arrested  Kapoor  at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main in 2012. (Please refer to S Vijay Kumar's book ''The Idol Thief'' - The True Story Of The Looting Of India's Temples:  ; he explains  Grace Punusamy' role and her connection with the arrest.  
Tit-bits:
2017. idols worth Rs.roo crore unearthed in Chennai, TNtimesofindia.indiatimes.com
 The above image:  The Tamil Nadu state police made  careful efforts last year to track  down and seize  close to 250 ancient idols some dating back 1,000 years, from thieves with links to illegal art dealers. The  estimate is about Rs 200 crore to be sent  to museums and individuals in India and abroad. The arresting officer said the idol thief G Deenadayalan, 85 years of age and his gang had  links to notorious idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor. The investigators had confiscated the statues  and around 90% of the idols   police seized were from Deenadayalan.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/rs-200-crore-ancient-idols-seized-from-thieves-rot-at-museum/articleshow/58993548.cms
https://www.rediff.com/news/special/the-woman-who-nailed-the-idol-thief-/20180920.html (updtd Sept 20 2018)
https://chasingaphrodite.com/2012/12/06/feds-subhash-kapoor-one-of-the-most-prolific-commodities-smugglers-in-the-world
http://navrang1.rssing.com/chan-58541628/all_p58.html
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/05/07/the-idol-thief