Operation Hidden Idol expands its reach: Homeland Security continues to actively pursue art stolen from ancient sites and temples

Publication March 29, 2016

Last week, Homeland Securities Investigations conducted a number of raids during New York’s Asia Week—a confab of museums, galleries and art houses promoting Eastern art—to seize over a half dozen Eastern Indian idols to be returned to their rightful temples.

These raids were part of Operation Hidden Idol, which is a continuing nine-year investigation into the smuggling of art antiquities. Its focus was initially  related to the arrest of Suhash Kapoor, an art broker who dealt in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of illegal art transactions of South Asian statuary and artwork.

Kapoor’s dealings, as well as other smugglers’ efforts, resulted in an unknown number of antiquities with questionable provenance appearing in the collections of museums, art aficionados and galleries around the world. After Kapoor’s arrest, extradition and charges of criminal conspiracy, the Homeland Security Investigations expanded Operation Hidden Idol to locate and return thousands of museum-quality pieces back to their countries of origin.

Operation Hidden Idol has now expanded beyond Kapoor’s dealings to recover any item believed to have been stolen from ancient sites or temples. In light of this intense scrutiny, as exemplified by last week’s raids, art collectors should take all precautions to authenticate the provenance of their pieces.

The spoils of these smugglers’ dealings have shown up not only in galleries and museums located in the US, but also elsewhere in the world, including in Australia and Singapore.

Since 2008, Operation Hidden Idol has recovered 2,600 pieces from around the country.

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