The sculptures were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Indian Consulate, incidentally the former office of diplomat Devyani Khobragade arrested on Dec. 12 on visa fraud charges. incidentally the former office of diplomat Devyani Khobragade arrested on Dec. 12 on visa fraud charges. Two of the three artifacts returned to India were reported in 2009 by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who notified the Indian Consulate about two sandstone sculptures stolen from the Gadgach Temple in Atru, Rajasthan. The 350-pound "Vishnu and Lakshmi" sandstone sculpture dates back to the 11th or 12th century and was listed as number six on INTERPOL's top 10 most wanted works of art.
A 600-pound "Vishnu and Parvati" sandstone sculpture was also stolen from the temple. The third artifact depicting a Bodhisattva is believed to date back to the 11th or early 12th century from either Bihar or Bengal. The repatriation ceremony, attended by HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins and INTERPOL Washington Director Shawn Bray, started with the playing of Indian and American national anthems. When asked if there was any connection between the timing of the ceremony, given the month-long tensions between the two countries over the arrest and indictment of Khobragade, both US and Indian officials said the ceremony had been on their calendars for a long time.
"With the efforts of the US, we are being reunited with our cultural properties. I express my heartfelt gratitude to US authorities for having invested so much time, energy and resources in obtaining and securing these (sculptures) and now helping us to send them back... The event marks a very important development in our bilateral cooperation," Mulay said.
"What I see from this is that our relationship has moved, is further being strengthened not only in the traditional conventional areas of politics, economics and culture. There are myriad aspects of security between the two countries and these are being strengthened through efforts from US and Indian sides.
"Prevention of illegal trade in antiquities has emerged as an important area of cooperation between India and the United States as can be seen from this recent recovery of stolen Indian antiquities," said Mulay. Dinkins said the "excellent international cooperation" between the US and India led to the recovery and return of the priceless antiquities.
Dinkins said that the pilfering of a nation's cultural patrimony cannot and will not be tolerated. He added that the three idols stolen and now being returned were not connected to the smuggling network run by antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently in custody in India. No arrests have been made in connection with the theft of the artefacts and the investigation is still ongoing.
Mulay said details are being worked out regarding when to send the artefacts back to India and where to install them.
"I deeply appreciate the excellent work done by ICE HSI in getting these three priceless Indian assets recovered. The successful investigations and repatriation of these cultural artifacts underscores the importance of growing institutional partnership, which is of great significance to both countries," Mulay said.
"There is no better example of what can be accomplished through the collaboration between US and international law enforcement via INTERPOL than the astounding results of this investigation, which have led to today's repatriation of these artifacts to their rightful place with the people of India," Bray said.
"INTERPOL Washington is proud to have been able to assist ICE Homeland Security Investigations in obtaining the documentation and images necessary to help identify the objects as those stolen from India."
The investigation into the stolen artefacts began in April 2010 when HSI New York special agents received information that the Indian sandstone sculptures recently looted from India were being offered for sale in the US.
HSI special agents discovered that the 'Vishnu and Lakshmi' statue was transported from India to Hong Kong, from where it was sold to a dealer in Thailand and then resold to a buyer in London. The London buyer shipped the sculpture to New York City for an exhibition in March 2010. It was recovered by HSI special agents in April 2010 while it was being shipped back to London.
In July 2010, due to the seizure of the "Vishnu and Lakshmi" statue, the "Vishnu and Parvati" sculpture was also seized. It had been transported to Hong Kong, sold to a buyer in New York and then sold and shipped to a buyer in Basel, Switzerland.
The Indian black stone Bodhisattva figure was discovered being smuggled in July 2011 into the United States at Newark Airport by US Customs and Border Protection officers.
HSI special agents seized it after discovering that its accompanying paperwork declared Great Britain as a false country of origin and that its value was grossly undervalued. The last ICE cultural property repatriation to India was in 2006 when ICE agents in the city returned a ninth century stone idol that had been stolen from a temple in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in 2000. (PTI)