In October 2011, New York-based Asian Art dealer Subhash
Kapoor was arrested in Germany and in July 2012 extradited to India where he awaits
trial facing criminal charges related to the theft and trafficking of
antiquities. At the time of his arrest, Kapoor was proprietor of the sales gallery
Art of the Past in New York City, dealing in cultural objects from a range of
South and Southeast Asian countries.
Starting in January 2012, the Department of Homeland
Security-Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI) followed up Kapoor’s arrest
with a series of raids on his New York sales and storage premises, seizing business
records and a large number of antiquities thought to have been stolen and
trafficked. By April 2015, DHS-HSI had recovered 2,622 antiquities with a total
appraised value of $107.6 million (Mashberg 2015). On 8 July 2019, the
Manhattan District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges related to
antiquities trafficking against Kapoor and seven alleged co-conspirators. The
complaint describes a series of offences starting at least by August 1986 with
the incorporation of Art of the Past and continuing until 2016. It alleges
Kapoor traded thousands of stolen antiquities with a total value exceeding $145
Based on documentation and other evidence recovered during
the DHS-HSI investigations, the meticulously detailed complaint contains a
wealth of information relating to Kapoor’s activities, which is primarily
reproduced in support of the charges brought against him, but which also casts light
on the operation of his business and the antiquities trade more generally. One
immediate point of interest is the evidence of price mark-ups between what
Kapoor paid for an object (cost price) and what he sold it for (selling price).
Leaving aside prices recorded on customs forms, which might be fraudulent, the
DHS-HSI was able to gain more reliable evidence of mark-ups from Kapoor’s
correspondence with his suppliers, sometimes supplemented by informant
To start with, the complaint provides prices for the
purchase and sale by Kapoor of three objects. The complaint also provides
Kapoor’s valuations of objects not sold by the time of the DHS-HSI raids.
Comparison of the actual selling prices of the three sold objects with Kapoor’s
pre-sale valuations of them allows an assessment to be made of the accuracy of
Kapoor’s valuations. The valuations can then be used as proxy selling prices
for several other unsold pieces and allow the calculation of four further potential
In early 2002, Kapoor bought from the Indo-Nepal Art Centre
in Mumbai, India a third-century limestone relief depicting worshippers of
Buddha (Worshippers Relief) stolen
from the Chadavaram Stupa, Andhra Pradesh, India. He valued it at approximately
$550,000. In 2005, Kapoor sold the relief to the National Gallery of Australia
(NGA) for $585,000. In September 2016, the NGA returned it to India (NGA 2016;
Arlt and Folan 2018). A fax from the Indian vendor records that Kapoor paid
$70,000 for the relief, meaning a mark-up from cost price to selling price of
736 per cent and a potential mark-up for Kapoor’s valuation of 686 per cent.
In late 2002, Kapoor bought from the Indo-Nepal Art Centre
in Mumbai, India two objects stolen from the Vriddhagiriswarar Temple in
Vriddhachalam, Tamil Nadu, India. The first was a twelfth-century granite
sculpture of the goddess Pratyangira,
which he valued at approximately $250,000. In July 2005, Kapoor sold the Pratyangira
to the NGA for $247,000. In September 2016, the NGA returned it to India (NGA
2016). The second was a tenth-century granite sculpture of Shiva as
Ardhanarishsvara (Ardhanari), which Kapoor
valued at $250,000. In June 2004, he sold the Ardhanari to the Art Gallery of
New South Wales (AGNSW) for $225,000. In September 2014, the AGNSW returned it to
India. A fax from the Indian vendor records that Kapoor paid 11,00,000 rupees
($22,634) for both pieces together, meaning a mark-up from cost price to
selling price of 1,985 per cent and a potential mark-up for Kapoor’s valuation
of 2,109 per cent.
The magnitude of these price mark-ups is extraordinary, averaging
out at 1,569 per cent. There is also reasonably good agreement between Kapoor’s
valuation of the objects and the price he ultimately secured when selling them.
Thus Kapoor’s valuations can be used as proxy price indicators, which allows
the calculation of several more potential price mark-ups.
In 2005, Kapoor visited Pakistan where he purchased two
objects. The first was a second–third-century
marble Buddha head (Monumental Buddha
Head), which he valued at approximately $4.5 million. On 5 January 2012,
DHS-HSI agents seized the Buddha Head from storage in New York. The second was
schist Herakles-Vajrapani holding a sword (Herakles
with Sword), which he valued at approximately $1.75 million. On 26 July
2012, DHS-HSI agents seized the Herakles from storage in New York. According to
informant testimony, Kapoor paid $500,000 for a batch of antiquities including
these two pieces. Even if the cost of other purchased antiquities is excluded,
the combined valuation of $6.25 million represents a potential mark-up from
cost price of 1,150 per cent. Allowing for the cost of the other three
antiquities in the $500,000 cost price, the real percentage mark-up would be
In April 2006, Kapoor visited Pakistan where he purchased
from Rawaiee Al Lotus a number of antiquities, including five eighteenth–nineteenth-century glazed
Quranic wall tiles (Quranic Wall Tiles).
He valued them in total at $445,000. A fax from Rawaiee Al Lotus shows Kapoor
paid $20,000 for the tiles, a potential mark-up from cost price of 2,125 per
On the same April 2006 buying trip, Kapoor bought a second–fourth-century schist statue
of Herakles as Vajrapani (Monumental
Herakles), which he valued at $950,000. He also bought a second–fourth-century Seated Buddha
on Lotus (Seated Buddha), which he valued
at $650,000. On 26 July 2012, DHS-HSI agents seized both pieces from storage in
New York. Kapoor bought the Herakles and Buddha as part of a lot containing
three other objects. A fax from Rawaiee Al Lotus shows that Kapoor paid
$200,000 for the lot. Even if the cost of the other three antiquities in the
lot is excluded, the combined selling price of $1.6 million for the Herakles
and the Buddha represents a mark-up from cost price of 700 per cent. Allowing
for the cost of the other three antiquities, the real percentage mark-up for
the two pieces would be higher still.
In 2005, Kapoor purchased a twelfth-century sandstone
sculpture of the monkey god Hanuman from
an Indian dealer in New York, which he valued at approximately $225,000. On 26
July 2012, DHS-HSI agents seized the Hanuman from storage in New York. An informant
states that Kapoor paid $30-40,000 for the Hanuman, a mark-up from cost price
to selling price of approximately 543 per cent.
| Object || Mark-up (per cent) |
Pratyangira and Ardhanari
| Monumental Buddha Head and Herakles with|
Quranic Wall Tiles
Monumental Herakles and Seated Buddha
Again, averaging out at about 1,200 per cent, the magnitude
of these mark-ups is remarkable, though they do not constitute profit. Kapoor
would have needed to deduct associated business costs for such things as staffing,
conservation and storage, not to mention tax. Not least is the fact that many
of the objects remained unsold at the time of the DHS-HSI raids and the
potential mark-ups had yet to be realised. It is interesting that the lowest
mark-up is for the Hanuman, which Kapoor bought once it was already in the USA.
He bought the other objects abroad and imported them, thereby running the risk
they might be seized by customs. Perhaps the element of risk was lower for
Kapoor when buying the Hanuman, with the lower mark-up reflecting a higher
price paid to his supplier who was the one accepting the risk of financial loss
or worse associated with importing the piece. The complaint reckons that at the
very least there are 39 stolen objects worth nearly $36 million unaccounted
for, which probably means they have been sold. That would be something like $33
million for Kapoor before tax and expenses. Was it worth it? He can’t spend the
money in prison.
Arlt, Robert and Lucie Folan, 2018. Research and restitution: the National Gallery of Australia’s repatriation of a sculpture from the Buddhist site of Chandavaram, Journal of Art Market Studies 2: 1-17.
Mashberg, Tom, 2015. New York authorities seek custody of stolen artifacts worth over $100 million, New York Times, 14 April.
NGA, 2016. National Gallery of Australia returns two sculptures to India, press release, 19 September.