British antique restorer arrested in US after extradition from London

Neil Perry Smith’s name featured in two TN idol theft cases

US authorities have announced the indictment of Neil Perry Smith, 58, following his extradition from London to face charges for his role in a decades-long global antiques smuggling ring that has plundered and made smuggled culturally significant relics from Asia and sold them on the New York art market. .

He was allegedly involved in the restoration of shattered Nataraja idols that were stolen from Sripuranthan, Ariyalur and Sri Narambunathar, in Thirunelveli district.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. made the announcement on Tuesday.

Smith is charged with possession and restoration of 22 stolen pieces, estimated to be worth more than $ 32 million.

His restorations hid the origin of the antiques so that alleged leader of the conspiracy network Subash Kapoor could then sell them at his now closed Madison Avenue-based Art of the Past gallery.

Smith, Kapoor and six other co-defendants were indicted in October 2019 following a year-long investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiques Trafficking Unit, along with partners charged from law enforcement to US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), on the group’s illicit activities affecting the New York market and originating in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar and other countries. From 2011 to 2020, the DA office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 objects tampered with by Kapoor and his network over a period of three decades. The total value of parts recovered exceeds $ 143 million.

A reminder

“The indictment of Neil Perry Smith reminds us that behind every antiquities trafficking ring attacking cultural heritage for profit, there is someone who collects and restores these looted pieces to donate to the company. criminal a veneer of legitimacy. Smith will now face justice on U.S. soil, and we look forward to seeing alleged leader Subhash Kapoor inside a Manhattan courtroom in the near future. In the meantime, we will continue to pursue these cases vigorously and return the items to the countries from which they were stolen, ”District Attorney Vance said in a statement.

Smith and Brooklyn-based restaurateur Richard Salmon were hired by Kapoor to clean up stolen antiques and repair any flaws, such as dirt, rust, or damage that might indicate recent looting or theft.

According to invoices and inventory logs seized from Kapoor’s office and storage areas, Kapoor usually arranged for the antiques to be sent to one of the conservators after they arrived at Art of the Past. For example, Smith restored the bases of many bronze relics stolen from temples in India after smugglers intentionally smashed them to facilitate their removal and move them across international borders. Smith’s restorations helped Kapoor deceive potential buyers about the origin and condition of the looted antiques so that he, in turn, could capitalize on this veneer of legitimacy by dramatically increasing their value.

Among other items, Smith has reportedly been restored, including an idol of Siva Nataraja estimated to be worth $ 5 million and one from Uma Parvati estimated to be worth $ 3.5 million.

Commenting on the development, S. Vijay Kumar, co-founder of India Pride, said: “Smith changed the color of the stolen Sripuranthan Nataraja giving it a fake greenish patina and even made a new hand for Sri Narambu Nathar’s Nataraja. , Pazhavour. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies in India did not follow through. Now the United States has successfully arrested Smith and we are sure the investigation will reveal more such cases. We hope that India will join the United States in this case at least now. “

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About Walter Bartholomew

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