The National Gallery of Australia announced Thursday that it will return more than a dozen “culturally significant” artworks to India due to the items’ alleged links to looting and trafficking networks.
Thirteen of the works, which include bronze and stone sculptures, historical photographs and a painted scroll, had been purchased directly from the disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who stands accused of smuggling thousands of antiquities from across Asia. A 14th item, acquired from the late dealer William Wolff, will also be repatriated.
The decision follows what the Canberra gallery called “years of significant research” into the provenance of its Asian art collection. An additional three sculptures, also purchased from Kapoor’s defunct Manhattan gallery Art of the Past, have been removed for further research and restitution, the museum said in a press release.
“We’ve spent many years assessing the available evidence before us,” the museum’s director, Nick Mitzevich, told CNN over the phone. “We’ve looked at all the legal and factual evidence, and on the balance of probability, these works were probably stolen or handled and illegally exported.”
The 14 works, acquired by the gallery between 1989 and 2010, had been purchased for a combined 3.03 million Australian dollars ($2.23 million), the museum confirmed.
According to a US criminal complaint against Kapoor and seven alleged co-conspirators, the dealer trafficked stolen antiques with a combined value of over $143 million. Authorities have seized more than 2,600 artifacts in connection with the investigation. Kapoor is currently on trial in India, and is also the subject of an arrest warrant in the US, where he faces 86 counts, including grand larceny, conspiracy, scheme to defraud and criminal possession of stolen property.
US court documents allege that Kapoor’s trafficking ring falsified authentication documents for items stolen from temples and archaeological sites across Southeast Asia, before selling the artifacts through his New York gallery. In 2011, Kapoor was arrested in Germany and sent to India to face charges.
Kapoor’s lawyer in New York, Georges Lederman, said that his client will contest the charges.
“Mr Kapoor has served 10 years awaiting trial in India, and assuming he is convicted in September, he will be extradited to New York sometime in 2022 following the completion of his sentence in India,” Lederman said over the phone. “He intends to contest the charges, and the underlying conduct he is being charged for in New York is the same for which he has already served in India.”