On 4 December, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the return of four antiquities, collectively valued at more than $1m, to Nepal. In a statement, the District Attorney’s Office noted that three of the objects are connected to ongoing investigations into Nepalese trafficking networks, including that of the allegedly prolific looter Subhash Kapoor.
The repatriated antiquities include a pair of 16th-century gilt bronze Bhairava masks (valued collectively at $900,000) and a Ten-Armed Durga Statue of unlisted age and value. A fourth recovered item, not detailed in the press release, is a stone image of the gods Shiva and Parvati, according to the Consulate General of Nepal in New York; it was recovered from the Brooklyn Museum after a Nepalese group heard about the artefact's location, spurring an investigation.
The masks depict the god Shiva, and were used for ritual worship in the annual Indra Jātrā festival before they were stolen in the mid-1990s and subsequently smuggled to Hong Kong. Following an auction sale in New York, the masks entered the collections of the Rubin Museum of Art and Dallas Museum of Art; they were recovered by the Manhattan DA earlier this year.
The Rubin Museum’s executive director, Jorrit Britschgi, explained: “While we have treasured this exceptional mask and enjoyed sharing it with visitors in our galleries since 2005, as well as through several scholarly publications, the evidence presented is clear, as is our decision to return the work to Nepal. We’re deeply sorry for the loss its removal has caused community members in Dolakha. We hope the work can return to its former location, yet also understand that the return will not remedy the wrongs that were done.”
The Ten-Armed Durga Statue was “allegedly smuggled out of Nepal by the Zeeshan and Zahid Butt trafficking network”, according to the DA’s Office, then trafficked into New York, where it was recovered in a storage unit owned by Kapoor. Between 2011 and 2023, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recovered more than 2,500 items allegedly trafficked by Kapoor’s network, valued collectively at more than $143m. Kapoor, who lives in India, was indicted alongside seven co-defendants on charges of conspiracy to traffic stolen antiquities in 2019. His extradition to the United States is pending.