Antiquities Restorer Charged with Possession of Looted Pieces Worth $32 M.

Neil Perry Smith, a British antiquities expert, has been charged for possessing and restoring 22 stolen objects from India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Nepal. The news was announced on Tuesday by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which said that the works were worth a collected $32 million.

The 58-year-old restorer was extradited to the United States from London. Cy Vance, Jr., the Manhattan District Attorney, said Smith was part of a crime ring led by dealer Subhash Kapoor, who operated a New York gallery called Art of the Past and was charged in India with 86 felony counts related to trafficking in 2019.

Kapoor’s operation is believed to have trafficked in looted antiquities worth at least $143 million over the course of three decades. The Immigration and Custom Enforcement has called him “one of the most prolific art smugglers in the world.” Works that passed through the ring ended up in the collections of museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Honolulu Art Museum in Hawaii, and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Kapoor is currently in prison in India and is awaiting trial.

Smith is the second restorer indicted in connection with that alleged crime ring. Richard Salmon, who was charged in 2019, was likewise accused of removing defects from smuggled artworks.

According to Vance, Smith helped Kapoor restore objects that had been broken as they were being stolen. He is accused of fixing up the bronze bases on certain relics, for example, in order to help Kapoor “mislead potential buyers” and “capitalize on this veneer of legitimacy by dramatically increasing values.”

Smith allegedly helped restore a sculpture of Shiva Nataraja worth $5 million and another statue of the Hindu goddess Parvati valued at $3.5 million.

“Without restorers to disguise stolen relics, there would be no laundered items for antiquities traffickers to sell,” Vance said in a statement. “The arraignment of Neil Perry Smith serves as a reminder that behind every antiquities trafficking ring preying upon cultural heritage for profit, there is someone reassembling and restoring these looted pieces to lend the criminal enterprise a veneer of legitimacy.”

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