An official press release issued by the Manhattan Deputy District Attorney and lead trial attorney and head of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, Matthew Bogdanos, said that Smith has been charged with possessing and restoring 22 stolen pieces, valued at more than $ 32 million (Rs 238crore).
“Smith’s restorations concealed the illicit origin of the antiques so that alleged conspiracy leader Subhash Kapoor could sell them at his now-closed Madison Avenue-based gallery Art of the Past,” the statement said. Interpol Idol dealer Kapoor was arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2011 and extradited to India the following year. He is now housed in Trichy Prison in Tamil Nadu.
Smith is charged on a count of 29 New York State Supreme Court indictment with multiple counts of criminal possession of stolen property, grand theft, conspiracy and scheme to defraud, the statement said.
Vijay Kumar from Pride of India Project said that for many decades Smith, in the guise of a restorer, had been aiding and inciting estate criminals by tampering with stolen murthis. Items allegedly restored by Smith include a Shiva Nataraja and an Uma Parvati worth several million rupees. The 22 stolen pieces he is accused of possessing and restoring originated in India, Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal. He altered the color of the stolen Sripuranthan Nataraja (recovered from Australia in 2014) giving it a false greenish patina and made a new hand for the Palavoor Nataraja, recovered in 2011, he said.
Smith, Kapoor and six other co-defendants were indicted in October 2019 by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan DA Office and the US National Security Investigations. They investigated the group’s illicit activities in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and other nations. From 2011 to 2020, more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and its network were recovered. “The total value of the recovered pieces exceeds $ 143 million,” the statement said.
“Sadly, the idol wing from India and Tamil Nadu did not follow Smith and Lay Shan from Hong Kong, who sent the artifacts for Subhash Kapoor to London for restoration,” said Vijay Kumar. “They never officially accused them or sought to investigate them. We hope that India will join the United States in this case at least now, ”he said.
Investigators said Kapoor hired Smith and Brooklyn-based restorer Richard Salmon to clean stolen antiques and repair any defects, such as dirt, rust or damage that could indicate recent looting or theft. Smith restored the bases of numerous bronze relics stolen from temples in India after smugglers intentionally smashed them to facilitate illicit removal from the site and across international borders. After the restoration, Kapoor kept the antiques in its store or in one of its many storage units until it was sold or consigned.