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Fourth object from Asia Week sales seized by federal agents

Sculptures from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been confiscated in a string of raids on auction houses and a gallery

by Gabriella Angeleti, Helen Stoilas  |  17 March 2016
Fourth object from Asia Week sales seized by federal agents
A sandstone stele of Rishabhanata (tenth century AD) linked to the antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor. Photo: Department of Homeland Security
Update: Federal agents seized a fourth sculpture that had been exhibited for sale during New York's Asia Week. An eighth-century Afghan marble sculpture of the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, seated on a tiger skin, was removed from a gallery on East 67th Street, the New York Times reports. It is the latest in a string seizures this week related to Operation Hidden Idol, an initiative run by Manhattan prosecutors and US customs authorities seeking to recover objects taken from Asia's temples and ancient sites.

On Tuesday, 15 March, agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations and officers from Customs and Border Protection seized a second-century Gandharan Bodhisattva schist head en route to an unidentified "East Coast auction house" that was due to sell the artefact in New York.

Officials seized this second-century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara region (likely from what is now known today as Swat Valley, Pakistan), estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This artefact is important, not only for its size, condition, and quality of carving, but also because of the unusual amount of gold gilding that remains on the surface of the head. It is a common practice for looters to remove just the head of a sculpture in situ because it is easier to smuggle and sell on the black market. Photo: US Immigration and and Customs Enforcement
Officials seized this second-century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara region (likely from what is now known today as Swat Valley, Pakistan), estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This artefact is important, not only for its size, condition, and quality of carving, but also because of the unusual amount of gold gilding that remains on the surface of the head. It is a common practice for looters to remove just the head of a sculpture in situ because it is easier to smuggle and sell on the black market. Photo: US Immigration and and Customs Enforcement
According to a statement released by investigators: "With Asia Week in New York beginning Tuesday, [customs officials] have been on the lookout for shipments coming in from shippers and sources that might be trying to exploit our border controls. This shipment contained some of the red flags authorities look for. It had multiple false statements and it is anticipated that the parties involved will be further investigated."

US federal agents seized two Indian sandstone sculptures that are linked to the dealer Subhash Kapoor from Christie’s auction house in New York on 11 March. Both works were due to be included in the 15 March sale of the Lahiri Collection of Indian and Himalayan art. Christie’s says that it had no knowledge that the works were stolen, the New York Times reports.

One sculpture depicts the Indian deity Rishabhanata (tenth century AD, est $100,000-$150,000), and the other panel depicts the deity Rivanta and his entourage (eight century AD, est $200,000-$300,000). The auction catalogue says that both works were acquired in London by 1999, one from an undisclosed collector and one from the British collectables house Spink & Son Ltd.
An eighth-century sandstone panel depicting the deity Rivanta and his entourage. Photo: Department of Homeland Security

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