Japanese antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku was arrested at Asia Week and charged on March 14th with criminal possession of a looted 2nd Century Buddhapada sculpture valued at more than $1 million, court records show.
UPDATE: On March 24, Kaku plead guilty to criminal possession of stolen property in exchange for a $5,000 fine and a sentence of time-served. Prosecutors explained the light sentence by saying Kaku had cooperated with on-going investigations. “This is part of a larger, ongoing investigation and there were cases where Mr . Kaku actually provided information,” Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos told the court.
Kaku, who owns Taiyo Ltd. in Tokyo, consigned the Kushan-period sculpture of the Buddha’s footprints to the Maitreya Inc. for sale at Asia Week.
Maitreya is owned by antiquities dealer Nayef Homzi, a prominent Manhattan dealer in Asian art who was previously director of the Doris Wiener Gallery, owned by the mother of Nancy Wiener, whose gallery was also raided this week. Homzi was the target of a federal investigation at last year’s Asia Week after he was caught trying to sell looted Indian sculptures valued at more than $500,000.
In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said, “The theft of antiquities has to be treated as the serious criminal matter it is. Our objective in these cases is to return the stolen item to the country where it was plundered from, and deter others from engaging in the illegal trade of cultural heritage.”
The story of the Buddhapada starts in 1982 in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when Kaku purchased the sculpture directly from smugglers, court records state. “When I saw the Buddhapada for the first time in Pakistan in 1982 they didn’t allow me to take photographs,” Kaku states in emails cited in the criminal complaint. “They didn’t tell me the exact place [where it was found.] As can be understood by the color of the stone, is an archaeological find from Swat.”
Kaku told authorities after his arrest this week that he knew it was illegal to purchase such material at the time, court records state. In 1975, Pakistan enacted the Antiquities Act, which bars the export of antiquities without state permission.
The sculpture was smuggled to Japan and sold to a private collector there. “After the collector passed away I sold it to Alexander Gotz in London in 2001. I bought it back from him in 2003 and sold it to another Japanese collector. In 2012 on request of the family of the collector who has gone on in years, the item has been entrusted with me…,” Kaku wrote in an email send in December 2015.
Kaku arranged to have the object shipped to New York City for its sale during Asia Week. He told authorities that he “knew it was illegal but that he loved antiquities so much and hated to see them destroyed,” court records state.
The sculpture was seized by authorities on March 14 and will be returned to Pakistan. Kaku was arraigned on March 14 and will next appear in a Manhattan court on March 25th.
At his March 24 sentencing, Kaku told the court through a translator that he believed was saving the looted objects he sold: “While I did stand to gain financially from the prospective sale of the Buddhapada, I was equally motivated by a life-long desire to preserve for posterity such works, which, if they were to remain in Pakistan, would, I believe, at best fall into disrepair and at worst be destroyed,” he said. “I now know, however, that it is not the right of any individual or institution to decide how the cultural patrimony of another country should be handled.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. had a different take on the case.
“Every year, fine art collectors from around the world flock to New York for Asia Week, where they spent a reported $360 million last year on Asian antiquities and art,” said Vance. “With high demand from all corners of the globe, collectors must be certain of provenance before purchasing. I urge dealers and auction houses to take every necessary precaution to avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilizations. If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities.”