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Ancient Statue Is Seized From Manhattan Gallery

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Ancient Statue Is Seized From Manhattan Gallery
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Federal agents seized an ancient Afghan statue from a Manhattan gallery Wednesday morning, part of a string of seizures that began Friday and have coincided with Asia Week festivities in New York.

The object, identified by authorities as an eighth-century marble sculpture of the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, seated on a tiger skin, was taken from a gallery on East 67th Street, where it was being displayed by Leonardo Vigorelli, owner of the Milan-based Dalton Somaré art gallery.

Federal authorities, working in conjunction with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, wrapped the relic in protective mats and loaded it onto a moving truck. Investigators estimate its value at $450,000.

On Friday, investigators using a search warrant obtained by Manhattan prosecutors seized two sculptures from Christie’s. On Tuesday they seized another sculpture that was being shipped into New York for sale. The items were all to be displayed as part of Asia Week New York, a 10-day yearly event in which more than 40 galleries and several auction houses show and sell paintings, sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, prints and photographs from throughout Asia.

Speaking on behalf of Mr. Vigorelli, Lark Mason, chairman of Asia Week and owner of Lark Mason Associates, said the dealer had obtained the proper paperwork needed to import the object and questioned why officials had not previously contacted the dealer to discuss the provenance of the piece. Mr. Vigorelli also disagreed with the valuation of the item, saying he had hoped to sell it for $50,000.

But investigators defended the approach they had taken. “This item is part of a serious, long-term, international criminal investigation,” said Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. “Today’s seizure was appropriate, and conducted pursuant to a search warrant approved by a neutral, third-party judge.”

The seizures are part of Operation Hidden Idol, under which Manhattan prosecutors and Homeland Security Investigations officials have been attempting to recover items stolen from temples and other ancient sites in Asia. Several of the artifacts seized in recent days, including the two taken from Christie’s, were connected, authorities say, to Subhash Kapoor, who is accused of running a smuggling ring out of India that involved more than 2,600 items taken from South Asia. Mr. Kapoor is in jail in India awaiting trial on charges there.

Tom Mashberg

NewYork Times

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