The latest new reports (here and here) regarding the extradition and trial of one Mr. Subash Kapoor (see photo at left) attest that prosecution has now begun. He is currently on trial in an Ariyalur courtroom for the specific charge of helping to illegally export 18 idols from Tamil Nadu, but he will apparently be interrogated for details regarding many other cases. Despite the very strict laws on the books regarding the private ownership (in India) and export of genuine archaeological or historic artifacts, and the requirement that any modern replicas be officially registered as such by local authorities before exportation, yet all involved in both supply and demand countries can attest that these laws are not enforceable enough.
Cases like Kapoor's (and that of one Mr. Ghiya, and the separate smuggling of the Sivapuram Nataraja bronze, both detailed in the article) make this all too apparent. The Indian Ministry of Culture continues to put out updated lists of high-profile antiquities of known or suspected illicit export, begging for their return from collectors or museums, but has had little luck, at least as of 2010. Perhaps some validly pre-date 1970 in exportation? Perhaps the Ministry drops the case at the first sign of objection from collectors or museum officials? Obtaining accurate information will be challenging. Perhaps what's now needed in a new ICOM Red List of Indian/South Asian cultural objects? This would at least provide Interpol and customs authorities one more weapon in this fight. I still feel that the arrest and trial of Kapoor will serve as something of a warning to other smugglers or would-be prominent dealers seeking to hide their role in the trade behind ownership of a glitzy gallery in a prominent demand country. Now the art, museum, and illicit antiquities research communities at large can only wait to see how the trial(s) unfold and what kind of justice is served. In this case at least, all roads eventually led to New York...
Stemming a Tide of Cultural Theft
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