US Returns 133 Antiquities To Pakistan

The pieces, worth $14 million, were seized as a result of multiple investigations into antiquities trafficking networks which targetted historical and heritage items from Pakistan

US Returns 133 Antiquities To Pakistan

The United States has returned 133 antiquities to Pakistan, roughly worth around $14 million. These antiquities had been trafficked from Pakistan, including some that date back to 105-85 BCE.

At a ceremony to return the antiquities in late May, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Ivan Arvelo said that these antiquities were stolen from Pakistan and were being traded through the black market by antiquities dealers and trafficking networks which targetted Pakistani antiquities including those run by Subash Kapoor and Richard Beale. 

"It is an honour and a privilege to return these invaluable artefacts to the people of Pakistan, representing the very essence of their nation's profound heritage," Arvelo said, adding, "HSI New York remains resolute in our dedication to collaborate with foreign and domestic counterparts to safeguard against the plundering of irreplaceable antiquities."

The pieces were returned at a ceremony in Manhattan, attended by Pakistani Consul General Aamer Ahmed Atozai and Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent-in Charge Christopher Lau.

One of the major pieces of antiquities returned was a Gold Strato I Coin, which is believed to have been minted circa 105-85 BCE during the reign of King Strato I, who ruled portions of the Indo-Greek empire, including Gandhara, in what is now northern Pakistan. The coin first surfaced in 2021 with Beale and was seized by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit in 2023 when he attempted to smuggle it into the US through the John F Kennedy airport in New York. Beale and his co-conspirator, Italo Vecchi, were convicted of antiquities trafficking-related crimes in August of 2023.

The US is still investigating the Beale-Vecchi trafficking network.

Another antiquity being returned is a monumental stone head of a Bodhisattva wearing an elaborate headdress with a central lotus flower. The stone head comes from the Gandharan region in northern Pakistan. This Gandharan sculpture is renowned for its evolution of Buddha representations and iconographic features of the Bodhisattva. The stone head was recovered from a storage facility where it had allegedly been hidden by Kapoor.

US authorities have investigated Kapoor and his network, which focuses on antiquities looted from various South and Southeast Asian countries, including Pakistan. From 2011 to 2023, the DA's office and HSI recovered more than 2,500 items which Kapoor and his network allegedly trafficked, worth a total of $143 million. An arrest warrant for Kapoor was obtained in 2012, while he and his seven accomplices were indicted in 2019. 

"These artefacts are now being returned to where they belong. This repatriation is more than the return of physical objects; it is the restoration of a part of Pakistan's soul and identity," said Consul General Atozai.

"I thank our team of outstanding investigators and prosecutors, along with our partners at HSI, for returning these more than 100 antiquities back to the people of Pakistan," said Manhattan District Attorney Bragg, adding, "We will continue to celebrate Manhattan's status as one of the cultural capitals of the world while doing everything possible to ensure that the antiquities sitting in our galleries and museums arrived here legally."