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Asian antiquities dealer accused of selling smuggled artefacts

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Nancy Wiener, a prominent Upper East Side dealer specialising in Indian and Southeast Asian antiquities, was arrested on 21 December on charges that since 1999 she has sold millions of dollars’ worth of smuggled artefacts.

The scope of the criminal complaint is vast, charging that Wiener conspired to supply clients through a number of improper channels ("networks"), working with, among others, Subhash Kapoor of Art of the Past gallery. Kapoor was charged with possession of 2,622 contraband items worth $107.6m in 2015; he is currently facing trial in India.

On her website, Wiener, a second-­generation dealer, advertises that she has placed objects with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, along with “numerous prestigious private collections”. In 2011 she inherited hundreds of items from her late mother, Doris, whose clients included John D. Rockefeller III and Jacqueline Kennedy. A consignment from the Wiener estate to Christie’s New York in March 2012 generated $12.8m over 380 lots, several of which are enumerated in the complaint.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office accuses Wiener of disposing records, falsifying documentation, restoring objects to conceal signs of illegal excavation and more. In one of the instances outlined, Wiener allegedly purchased a stolen bronze Buddha from Thailand or Cambodia for $500,000 and arranged with co-­conspirators to increase its value by placing it in a 2011 book, admitting in emails to having “changed” the provenance “a bit”. When the object was seized as part of an initial raid in March 2016, it was for sale at the gallery for $1.5m.

Wiener's lawyer, Michael McCullough, of Pearlstein McCullough & Lederman, told The Art Newspaper, “Nancy Wiener’s extraordinary accomplishments as an art dealer have been widely recognised in her field. In December, Ms. Wiener surrendered voluntarily to charges related to a March 2016 seizure of objects from her gallery. The charges did not come as a surprise to us, and we look forward to offering a robust response at the appropriate time.” At her arraignment, Wiener posted $25,000 in bail.