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Indian-American art dealer palms off stolen Indian artefacts


Subhash Kapoor photoBY A STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK: The indictment of the girlfriend of Manhattan’s Indian-American antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor has revealed the fake ownership histories of stolen Indian artefacts palmed off to museums across the world.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has criminally charged Kapoor’s girlfriend Selina Mohamed with participating in a
decades-long conspiracy to launder stolen antiquities by creating false ownership histories.

She is also charged with, more recently, helping to hide four stolen bronze sculptures as investigators closed in on Kapoor, according to chasingaphrodite.com, a specialised art website tracking “looted antiquities in the world’s museums”.

Kapoor, described by federal investigators as one of the most prolific antiquities smugglers in the world, is now in custody in Chennai, where he is facing trial as the alleged mastermind of an international antiquities’ smuggling ring.

Selina, who was arrested on December 27, was charged with four counts of criminal possession of stolen property and one count of conspiracy, court records show.

She is the third person criminally charged in the case, following the indictments of Kapoor’s sister Sushma Sareen and gallery
manager Aaron Freedman, who pleaded guilty to six criminal counts earlier this month.

There is also an arrest warrant out for Kapoor.

Prosecutors allege that since 1992 Selina has been involved in the fabrication of bogus ownership histories for dozens of objects Kapoor sold to museums around the world.

Since 2007, she also had nominal control over several of Kapoor’s storage facilities.

The possession charges relate to her alleged role in the disappearance of four of Kapoor’s stolen bronze sculptures–two of Shiva and two of Uma–valued at $14.5 million.

Kapoor instructed his gallery manager to send the Chola-era bronzes to Selina’s house in November 2011, the complaint states.

After federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations searched Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery and storage facilities in January 2012, Selina insisted that the bronzes be removed from her house. They are now missing.

She allegedly created false provenance for several Kapoor objects.

Among the artefacts identified in the complaint for the first time are a 10th-11th century sculpture of Lakshmi Narayana from northern India, now at the National Gallery of Australia which bought it from Kapoor in 2006 for $375,000.

As Kapoor noted in promotional materials, “the treatment of the eyes is similar to that of another Lakshmi-Narayana from the temple at Khajuraho,” a world heritage site in Madhya Pradesh that contains some of the greatest masterpieces of Indian art.

Also listed is a gilded 18th century altar from Goa showing the Virgin Mary at Singapore’s Asian Civilisation’s Museum.

Kapoor sold it to the museum in 2009 for $135,000, describing it as “one of the most important and unique examples of Goanese art to appear on the market in over a generation”.

For the first time, the criminal complaint lists several American museums that purchased objects from Kapoor and his associates, who, the complaint says, attempted to launder them with fabricated ownership histories.

They include a 12th century Vishnu Trivrikrama at the University of Florida’s Harn Museum in Gainsville, Florida and a 19th century painting at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Selina also allegedly provided false provenance for a torso of a Vedata that was reported as stolen from Madhya Pradesh state’s Karitalai village in 2006 on the Interpol database.

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