US returns two antique statues worth $500,000 stolen from India
Two antique statues worth hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from India and displayed at two American museums have been repatriated to India by the US. The first statue, 'Lingodhbhavamurti', a granite sculpture depicting Lord Shiva, dates back to the Chola dynasty and 12th-century. Valued at about $225,000, it was stolen from Tamil Nadu and was on display at the Birmingham Museum in Alabama.
The second phyllite sculpture depicts the bodhisattva of wisdom, 'Manjusri', holding a sword. Dating back to the 12th century, the statue was stolen from a temple near the Bodh Gaya Temple in Bihar in the late 1980s and has a current approximate value of $275,000. It was repatriated from Ackland Art Museum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Both of the iconic structures were forfeited once the owners of the statues were presented with evidence that the artifacts were previously stolen from India. The statues were handed over to India's Consul General in New York, Ambassador Sandeep Chakravorty, by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr during a repatriation ceremony at the Indian Consulate on Tuesday.
"The pillaging of world heritage for profit is a tragedy. Moreover, trading in stolen artifacts is a crime and my Office's Antiquities Trafficking Unit is committed to recovering these precious items and returning them to their countries of origin," Vance said. The District Attorney said his office will continue to focus on repatriating art stolen from India.
The Consul General and the District Attorney spoke about the cultural ties between the two countries and the importance of bilateral cooperation between various agencies of both countries in detecting and investigating cultural crime. Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York, Angel Melendez, said the preservation of one's culture is a commitment made by whole communities and has existed since the beginning of time.
Melendez emphasized that partnerships with foreign counterparts' help identify and investigate smuggling networks and partnerships with museums enable to identify stolen artifacts, ensuring their expeditious return to the home country. In August, Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Antiquities Trafficking Unit seized two statues following a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation with partners in international law enforcement into the illicit trade of stolen antiquities.
The matter of smuggling of rare and valuable Indian antiques had first come to light in 2007 when the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence in India provided specific information through the Indian Consulate in New York about a particular consignment of seven crates purportedly containing 'marble garden sets'. When the consignment was checked, it was found to contain rare Indian artifacts and antiques.