US hands over 3 stolen sandstone sculptures to India

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 01:09 hrs

New York: The US today handed over to India three stolen antique sculptures, valued at over 1.5 million dollars, in a display of cooperation between the two countries following a month-long row over the arrest and indictment of an Indian diplomat here.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations returned the three sculptures to Indian Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay during a "repatriation ceremony" at the Indian Consulate.

The US federal agents had seized the antiquities as they were being illegally traded within America.

The exchange comes just days after diplomat Devyani Khobragade was asked to leave the US after she was accorded diplomatic immunity by the State Department and indicted on charges of visa fraud and making false statements regarding the employment terms of her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard.

Incidentally, the repatriation ceremony will take place at the Indian Consulate, which had been Khobragade's office before she was transferred to the Indian mission at the UN.

"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.

"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."

One of the objects a 350-pound sandstone sculpture stolen from an Indian temple in 2009 ֖ was listed as one of INTERPOL's top 10 most wanted stolen works of art.

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 6 on INTERPOL's top 10 most wanted works of art.

Also stolen from the temple and repatriated during the ceremony was the 600-pound 'Vishnu and Parvati' sandstone sculpture, dating to the same period.

The third artifact is a male deity black sandstone sculpture, depicting a Bodhisattva, a popular subject in Buddhist art, and is believed to date back to the 11th or early 12th century from either Bihar or Bengal.

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