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HomeHeadline newsUS authorities return Shiva idol trafficked by Indian-American to Cambodia

US authorities return Shiva idol trafficked by Indian-American to Cambodia

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New York authorities have returned stolen antiquities valued at $3 million to Cambodia and Indonesia, seizing 30 artefacts linked to illicit trade by American smugglers. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the repatriation, highlighting ongoing efforts to combat trafficking networks targeting Southeast Asian cultural heritage.
Notable pieces include a bronze Shiva idol and a stone bas-relief from the Majapahit empire. Subhash Kapoor, an Indian-American art dealer, and Nancy Wiener, an American dealer, were implicated in the trafficking.
Kapoor, arrested in 2011, is serving a 13-year sentence, while Wiener, sentenced in 2021, attempted to sell the Shiva statue. Bragg’s tenure has seen the retrieval of over 1,200 items worth $250 million.
The artefacts worth around $3 million were involved in illicit trade facilitated by a network of American dealers and traffickers. The authorities have repatriated 30 stolen antiquities to Cambodia and Indonesia.
Among these are a bronze idol of the Hindu god Shiva, known as the ‘Shiva Triad,’ which was illicitly removed from Cambodia, and a stone bas-relief depicting two royal figures from the Majapahit empire, dating back to the 13th-16th century, which was stolen from Indonesia.
“We are continuing to investigate the wide-ranging trafficking networks that continue to target Southeast Asian antiquities. While we have made significant progress and have dismantled several prominent networks, there is clearly still much more work to do. These repatriation ceremonies show our continued commitment to protecting cultural heritage and returning stolen antiquities back home,” said Alvin Bragg, Manhattan District Attorney.
A total of 27 artefacts from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh and three from Indonesia’s Jakarta were returned. Cambodia’s royal ambassador Keo Chhea said, “Today’s ceremony isn’t just about returning lost treasures; it’s a renewal of commitment between nations to safeguard the soul of our shared heritage. This commitment, built on robust cooperation, is what makes today significant.”
The Bronze Shiva Triad, smuggled from Cambodia in the early 2000s under Nancy Wiener’s direction, traversed through her New York gallery’s illicit trade network.
Despite restoration efforts and a failed sale attempt in 2007, Wiener later donated it to the Denver Art Museum, where it remained until the Antiquities Trafficking Unit reclaimed it in June 2023. Wiener’s arrest in 2016 culminated in her 2021 conviction.
stone relief
The Stone Relief, returned to Indonesia, stands out as a rare example of material culture from the Majapahit Empire (1293-1527), one of the most powerful and influential empires in Southeast Asia’s history. (Photo credit: www.manhattanda.org)
The Stone Relief, repatriated to Indonesia, is a rare exemplar of the Majapahit Empire’s artistry, depicting two royal figures amid stylized foliage, likely holding Maja fruit. Recovered from a Kapoor-owned storage, it enriches Indonesia’s cultural heritage.
“Cambodia and the United States are setting a global standard for protecting and repatriating cultural heritage. Through this united effort, we ensure the preservation of our collective past for future generations.”
The infamous Subhash Kapoor an Indian-American dealer and Nancy Wiener, an American dealer were under Bragg’s radar and they were involved in the trafficking of these precious artefacts. Kapoor has been under investigation by US justice for decades in the operation named ‘Hidden Idol’ and he was also arrested in Germany in the year 2011.
He was extradited to India, where he faced trial and was sentenced in November 2022 to 13 years in prison for his crimes.
Despite Kapoor’s denial of the charges against him, the investigation into the broader network of antiquities trafficking continues.
Wiener, who was sentenced in 2021 for her involvement in the trafficking of stolen art, had attempted to sell the bronze Shiva. However, she later donated it to the Denver Museum of Art in Colorado in 2007. This piece was among those seized by New York courts in 2023.
Under Bragg’s watch, to date, nearly 1,200 items from over 25 countries, valued at more than $250 million, have been retrieved.

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