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July 21, 2021

A "Homeland" welcome for Neil Perry-Smith in New York

 

We are standing in front of a single-piece sand-stone sculpture of a serenely smiling cross-legged Shiva being worshipped by the small, dumpy Skanda (Fig. 3), the one the Guimet questioned. It was probably made in the second quarter of the 10th century for Jayavarman IV's new capital at Lingapura, today's Koh Ker, and is possibly a symbol of the king and his son. 'This is spectacular. I was shown a picture of it in pieces in the mid-Eighties. The head of Shiva was off, the arms broken, Skanda's feet broken. I bought it. It arrived in three pieces. Neil Perry-Smith, one of the leading restorers of stone, metal and gold, put it together. These had been clean breaks, there's no restoration.' Indeed, the breaks are invisible. 'Go by the wall so you can see Skanda's face', he says, so that I can observe how the artist has trapped religious bliss in the face. 'I sum it up in one word: adoration.'

After boarding a plane in the UK for New York and arriving yesterday, Neil Perry-Smith surrendered voluntarily to officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in relation to an arrest warrant issued against him through the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for his alleged role in an international smuggling ring that trafficked in stolen works of art.  According to Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys Matthew Bogdanos and Christopher Hirsch, the well-organized smuggling network is believed to have laundered hundreds of objects out of India and other source countries onto the licit art market in an operation that is believed to have lasted for as long as thirty years. 

On 8 July 2019 arrest warrants were issued for eight defendants involved in the scheme listing a total of 213 Counts, ranging from grand larceny to criminal possession of stolen property.  The original 28 counts listed against Perry-Smith in the Manhattan complaint were:

1. PL 165.54 Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (7 counts)
2. PL 155.40(1) Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (5 counts)
3. PL 165.52 Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (13 counts)
4. PL 165.50 Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (1 count)
5. PL 105.10(1) Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (1 count)
6. PL 190.65(1)(b) Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (1 count)

**Note:  It there now seems to be an additional 29th count. 

In that previous DANY's painstakingly detailed felony arrest warrant, it is alleged that Perry-Smith was one of at least seven individuals identified through their investigation who participated in an international criminal network handling material later sold by disgraced ancient art dealer Subhash Kapoor and his former gallery Art of the Past, once located at 1242 Madison Avenue, in New York. 

As a result of this ongoing international investigation into this network's operations, officers with DHS-HSI, working with the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan conducted a total of twelve raids, resulting in the seizure of 2,622 objects valued at no less than $107,682,000 from Kapoor's gallery and numerous storage locations within the jurisdiction of the state of New York. 

The July 2019 Felony Arrest Warrant document listed 72 stolen antiquities possessed by Subhash Kapoor or members of his network from 1986 to 2016 giving an estimated value to the pieces at $79,101,000.  Of those 72, only 33 had been identified and seized by law enforcement as of the summer of 2019.   Thirty-nine other artefacts had still not been located and were estimated to be worth no less than $35,835,000.  Investigators suspect that Kapoor orchestrated to have the missing objects hidden sometime following his initial arrest in Germany in 2011 and prior to his extradition from Europe to India to answer to the charges he faces for the trafficking in ancient artefacts from his home country. 

In July 2020, the Manhattan DA’s Office also filed extradition paperwork for Subhash Kapoor, in answer to their previous arrest warrant relating to his alleged crimes carried out in the United States.  In the meanwhile, Kapoor remains in the high-security block of Tiruchirapalli Central Prison in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu pending the completion of his first trial in India. 

As it relates to Neil Perry-Smith's alleged role, little detail was mentioned in the lengthy July 2019 Felony Arrest Warrant document.  It stated simply that Subhash Kapoor shipped artefacts with forged bills of lading, first to a company in Hong Kong, while arranging for the antiquities to be restored. Those artefacts would then be shipped from Hong Kong onward to either Neil Perry-Smith in London or to Richard Salmon in New York for restoration, who would then work on the objects before forwarding the conserved artefacts on to Kapoor for sale through his New York gallery. 


But yesterday's confirmation of Perry-Smith's surrender to New York authorities elaborates further on the charges awaiting the London restorer.  In their press release,  Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. states that "Smith" is "charged with possessing and restoring 22 stolen pieces, with an estimated value of more than $32 million" including bronze murti, normally housed in temples, representing the goddess Uma Parvati, Naga Buddha, and Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja).  Laundered onto the licit art market, the bronzes Perry-Smith is alleged to have handled have an estimated market value of more than $32 million, all of which were subsequently shipped on to the conspiracy ringleader Subhash Kapoor for sale in his Manhattan gallery. 



But as we can read from the November 2008 quote excerpted at the top of this blog post, we know that Neil Perry-Smith also restored works of ancient art for at least one other suspect ancient art dealer also previously under indictment for the handling of looted antiquities. 

Shiva and Skanda
10th Century CE 130 cm
Taken from an interview article in Apollo Magazine, we learn that Perry-Smith restored a 10th century Cambodian  Khmer sculpture of Shiva & Skanda for the deceased British art collector and dealer Douglas A.J. Latchford.  One that, in Latchford's own words, arrived to the Thai-based collector-dealer broken in three pieces, with clean breaks.  Clean breaks are a tell-tale sign that the artwork may have been intentionally broken, with breaks such as these, along specific, easily repairable points being done to ease transport and future reassembly, when large cumbersome sculptures are removed from their find spots by looters. 

Prior to his death, Bangkok-based Latchford, had himself been indicted, in November 2019,  in the US Federal Court of the Southern District of New York for wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy, and related charges pertaining to his own alleged trafficking in stolen and looted antiquities from India and Southeast Asia.  Once considered a pre-eminent collector and expert of Cambodian antiquities, the disgraced 88-year-old Latchford died on 2 August 2020 at his home in Bangkok before his case could be brought to trial in the United States.

Prior to Latchford's indictment, the Cambodian Ministry of Culture also identified Neil Perry-Smith's UK-based Private Limited Company Neil F. Perry as the restorer who worked with Jonathan Tucker and Antonia Tozer's London firm Asian Art Resources.  Tucker and Tozier had brokered the sale of 10 restored Angkorian-era gold jewellery pieces that, like so many others, had appeared on the ancient art market via Douglas A.J. Latchford's network, with no known legitimate provenance.  These pieces had been published in Latchford's and Emma C. Bunker's 2008 book:  Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods and were ultimately forfeited voluntarily to the Kingdom of Cambodia in April 2017. 

It remains to be seen what concrete evidence, if any, Neil Perry-Smith can, or will, choose to share with the authorities about the pieces he handled originating from both Douglas Latchford's and Subhash Kapoor's networks.  But with 29 counts now racked up against him, we suspect he won't feel ambivalent about giving up what he knows, trading testimony for the expectation of possible sentencing discounts. 

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