US returns ancient artefacts looted from Cambodia, Indonesia | Arts and Culture News

New York district attorney accuses two prominent art dealers of the illegal trafficking of antiquities worth $3m.

Prosecutors in New York City have announced that they returned to Cambodia and Indonesia 30 antiquities that were looted, sold or illegally transferred by networks of American antiquities dealers and traffickers.

The antiquities were valued at a total of $3m, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement on Friday.

Bragg said he had returned 27 pieces to Phnom Penh and three to Jakarta in two recent repatriation ceremonies, including a bronze statue of the Hindu deity Shiva, which was looted from Cambodia, and a stone bas-relief sculpture of two royal figures from the Majapahit empire, which reigned between the 13th and 16th centuries, that was stolen from Indonesia.

Bragg accused American art dealers Subhash Kapoor and Nancy Wiener of participating in the illegal trafficking of the antiquities.

American-Indian Kapoor – who was accused of running a network that trafficked items stolen in Southeast Asia and put them on sale in his Manhattan gallery – has been the target of a United States justice investigation dubbed “Hidden Idol” for more than a decade.

Kapoor was arrested in Germany in 2011 and then sent to India where he stood trial and was sentenced in November 2022 to 13 years in prison.

Responding to a US indictment for conspiracy to traffic in stolen works of art, Kapoor denied the charges.

Major trafficking hub

New York is a major trafficking hub for stolen and looted antiquities, and several works have been seized in recent years from museums, including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art, and private collectors.

“We are continuing to investigate the wide-ranging trafficking networks that … target Southeast Asian antiquities,” Bragg said in the statement.

“There is clearly still much more work to do.”

Wiener, who was sentenced in 2021 for trafficking in stolen works of art, sought to sell the bronze Shiva statute but eventually donated the piece to the Denver Museum of Art in Colorado in 2007.

The antiquity was seized by the New York courts in 2023.

Cambodia’s ambassador to the US, Keo Chhea, welcomed the return of the artefacts, calling it “a renewal of commitment between nations to safeguard the soul of our shared heritage”.

“Through this united effort, we ensure the preservation of our collective past for future generations,” he said in the statement issued by New York’s district attorney.

Indonesia’s representative in New York, Consul General Winanto Adi, also praised Bragg’s effort, saying it served as a “precious gift” as the US and Indonesia celebrated the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.

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