New York: A New Jersey man has pleaded guilty for his role in coordinating a large-scale conspiracy to sell stolen Indian antiquities worth tens of millions of dollars and assisting a disgraced Indian-origin art dealer in the sale of stolen artwork to museums across the world.
Aaron Freedman, 41, of Princeton, worked for nearly two decades as a manager at Art of the Past, the Manhattan art gallery owned by Subhash Kapoor that served as a front for the sale of stolen and looted Buddhist and Hindu statues.
Freedman pleaded guilty to conspiring to criminally possess stolen property along with five counts of criminal possession of stolen property.
He admitted to assisting Kapoor, 64, with shipments of stolen antiquities from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Cambodia, as well as providing false provenances.
As part of the conspiracy, Freedman assisted with the sale of stolen artwork to galleries and museums across the world, which included the sale of a stolen USD 5 million Shiva Nataraja statue looted from the Sivan Temple in India, which is now on display at the National Gallery of Australia and the attempted sale of a 2nd century BC
Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at approximately USD 15 million, which is now in federal custody here pending forfeiture.
In total, Freedman pleaded guilty to six felony counts related to criminal possession of stolen property valued at roughly USD 35 million.
He has also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and prosecution of Kapoor, who is currently in the custody of Indian authorities for arranging the theft of statues from significant cultural and religious sites in that country.
Kapoor also faces charges in New York County for possession of stolen property.
"Kapoor is by far the biggest smuggler, in terms of numbers of antiquities stolen and their market value, that we have seen," special agent in charge for HSI New York James Hayes said.
"HSI special agents continue to search and seek recovery of dozens of bronze and sandstone images of Hindu and Buddhist deities sold by Kapoor."
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen.
Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.