Oh fuck yes! Look, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the art market is a billion-dollar industry. If it [smuggling] is not tolerated on certain levels, the banks would never reach their peaks. I had people on my payroll at customs... it was barely even necessary to smuggle because you could bring it in almost officially so long as you pay a little bit to the right people.
Subhash Kapoor was an Uttar Pradesh-born US citizen and had an antique gallery in New York. He had smuggled idols from India and Afghanistan. Kapoor is also an important link to an international smuggling racket. Interpol had acted upon a red corner notice and he was detained in Germany. He was extradited and faced trial in Chennai. Currently, he is locked up Trichy prison.
The Italian and other governments are becoming far more aggressive in seeking the repatriation of looted antiquities. Italy in particular waged a long legal battle against Getty curator of antiquities, Marion True, for acquiring illicitly exported pieces, although the case finally exhausted the statute of limitations. And in recent years numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries. These include the famed Etruscan Euphronios krater (wine bowl) dating from 515 BC and which was bought by the Met in 1972 for $1.2m. It turned out that this had also been handled by Medici, and the museum gave it back to Italy in 2006. Just this month, the Getty said it was returning a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament to the Greek Dionysiou monastery – from which it had disappeared more than 50 years ago.
Having turned the craft of international art smuggling into an art in its own right, Michel Van Rijn was once wanted by authorities all over the world for sneaking valuable pieces of art across sea and land. With millions in the bank, Michel lived the life of a playboy. He owned private planes, enjoyed a harem of beautiful women, and did business with some of the world's most dangerous criminals-many of whom were members of various governments (and probably still are).
Morland was heir to a Quaker dynasty that made a fortune turning sheepskins into coats, and lived a gilded youth: his father was a renowned physician and his mother was a key figure in the modern art world, friend of George Orwell and Henry Moore. At 6ft 3in tall, good looking and well connected, Morland skied for England, had a beautiful wife and children, a des-res in south-west London, a farmhouse in Malta and the world at his feet.
Seeking a permanent home for his collection of over 4,000 objects, in 1972 he welcomed an overture from the financially troubled Pasadena Museum of Modern Art. He ultimately assumed control and naming rights, and in 1974 it was renamed the Norton Simon Museum. In 1987, the University of California, Los Angeles, announced an "agreement in principle" with Simon for the transfer to the university of the art collection owned by two Simon foundations – the Norton Simon Foundation and the Norton Simon Art Foundation. The plan was to keep most of collection in Pasadena, administered by UCLA, the Simon board and the Norton Simon Foundation. The university was to build a separate museum facility on campus for part of the collection. However, Simon withdrew his offer three months after the announcement was made.
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.