Loss of India's Heritage
A telephonic interview of retired US Homeland Security Department agent, Mr Domenic DiGiovanni (DD), on the subject of stolen antiquities from India. The following is the transcript of his conversation with Ashish Dhar (AD).
AD- How did you get involved in the field of stolen antiquities and what role did you play in it?
DD- I was a US customs officer for some time and worked in the cargo department, which was my area of expertise. And probably around 2008, I became acquainted with a special agent named Mr. Brenton Easter. He was the main agent who was involved with cultural property and heritage in New York City. We struck up a conversation about cultural heritage, which at that time wasn't on my radar extensively. But I did deal with artefacts, antiquities, and related items from time to time.
I was doing some work with Iraqi artefacts in the early 2000s and it was around then that Mr Easter told me a story about India and how they were looking for stolen antiquities. There was a certain individual and that was Mr Kapoor I figured later. I started focusing more on objects, especially from India.As our relationship progressed, it became obvious that the antiquity work that I was doing could not be done as efficiently with all the other Customs work. So with the permission of my superiors, I specifically got involved with antiquities. I worked with Agent Easter quite closely and we did so on several different cases. This just happened to be one of them and was probably one of our most famous cases together. As a Customs Inspector, I would read and record all the information on imports coming in and would then hand it off to the special agents. If there was anything of interest, we would look at it further. We would detain it as long as we possibly could or were allowed by law, to get information about specific objects that were brought into the country. I was sharing all my information with Homeland Security for goods coming in from any part of the world, not just India.
AD- An operation called Operation Hidden Idol had been in the news and has gained a lot of attention. Could you tell me a little bit more about it, how it got started, and how it eventually proceeded?
DD- The Interpol had arrested four people in a smuggling case after which we gathered more information about those particular imports. These imports were specifically from India and as more information came in, we found out that other countries too were involved and it was a multinational network. Agent Easter was one of the lead Homeland Security agents in New York City as he knew about antiquities smuggling. The case started with information drawn from earlier ones which special agents had done on arts and antiquities. Those cases had led us to a database of information about different places, people, and methodologies used to smuggle antiquities. And it just evolved with this particular case with India and other countries, eventually being nicknamed Operation Hidden Idol.