US authorities have charged the sister of Indian antique smuggler Subhash Kapoor with hiding four stolen bronze statues of Hindu deities valuing a total of about USD 14.5 million.
Sushma Sareen, 60, has been charged in a criminal complaint with four counts of possession of stolen property.
She has been released on bail. The next court hearing in the case is in January next year.
The complaint said Sareen knowingly possessed stolen property worth millions of dollars with intent to “impede recovery” by authorities.
An informant, who had been in touch with Sareen, told authorities that Sareen had been closely involved with the illegal business of Kapoor’s art gallery ‘Art of the Past’ since his arrest in 2010.
She had travelled to India, assisted with wire transfers, and contacted antiquities smugglers with prior dealings with Kapoor.
Sareen is accused of hiding a 12th Century Chola bronze Shiva statue valued at about 3.5 million dollars, another five million dollar ‘Shiva of Nataraja’ statue, a 2.5 million dollar ‘Uma Parameshvari’ statue and a 3.5 million dollar ‘Uma-Parvati’ statue.
These statues were stolen from the Varadharaja Perumi temple in Ariyalur District of Tamil Nadu between February and April of 2008.
According to the complaint, Sareen currently has the power of attorney for the gallery and is running the business with Kapoor’s daughter Mamta Sager.
After a search warrant was executed at the gallery in January 2012, it was arranged with Sareen that the four bronze statues would be picked up and moved to a “safe location”, the complaint said.
According to informants, Sareen knew that all four statues were stolen but she went ahead and made shipping arrangements.
One of the informants wanted the stolen statues returned to the gallery, but Sareen “believed they were safer with her”.
The statues at the gallery totalling 14 in number were illegally exported from India to Hong Kong.
Kapoor was the subject of an Interpol red notice and was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. He was extradited to India in July last year to face criminal charges.
Federal authorities here have said that Kapoor’s alleged smuggling of cultural artifacts worth more than an estimated 100 million dollars makes him one of the most “prolific commodities smugglers” in the world today.