Subhash Kapoor, an art smuggler, is accused of running a major smuggling racket from South India. He has helped many international collectors and museums illegally acquire millennia old Chola bronzes and exquisite sculptures. Ongoing investigations have led to the discovery of 2622 items worth Rs 800 crore smuggled out of India. Despite all this collectors and museums across the world are refusing to divulge information about their illegal acquisitions of valuable Indian art.
More recently, this year, the Department of Homeland Security seized seven objects in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection because they had been notified that the works were smuggled into America. Six of the objects came from Subhash Kapoor, whom authorities believe looted over $100 million in art. After that, the museum’s director, Stephan Jost, returned the works that Greene donated eleven years earlier and found that no signed warranty was given to the museum either.
The India Pride Project, a volunteer group set up after the Indian governments’ shoddy investigations and lame attempts to bring back smuggled art treasures frustrated, has taken to social media and online activism. Over the last four years, this group has painstakingly built a volunteer sourced image archive of Indian art works now being housed in overseas museums and art auction houses.
Buried treasure, mysterious deaths, looting, forged documents, secretive Swiss bank vaults and shadowy intermediaries. This is not a description of a Dan Brown thriller. It’s real life: the trade in illegally exported antiquities. As prices soar into the millions of dollars for the top pieces, so does the incentive to dig up treasures in Italy, Greece, Turkey and farther afield, pass them to “runners” who will sneak them illegally across borders, store them in a Swiss vault and then quietly slip them into the trade. The players in this murky world can make a fortune, but this is a dangerous game.