US Returns More Than 200 Stolen Artifacts to India as Modi Starts Visit

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Washington, DC – The United States returned to India hundreds of artifacts on June 6, the first day of a three day visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington, DC.

“The United States is committed to ensuring that no nation is robbed of the objects that inform its identity, shape its traditions and inspire its citizens,” said Attorney General Lynch at the ceremony where she returned more than 200 artifacts to the Government of India, attended by visiting Indian leader Modi.

Speaking at the event, Modi expressed gratitude to US President Barack Obama, “for returning to us these treasures which join us to our past,” adding, “This will evoke great respect among the people of India.”

“Today, as part of that ongoing commitment, more than 200 antiquities and cultural artifacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home. It is my hope – and the hope of the American people – that this repatriation will serve as a sign of our great respect for India’s culture; our deep admiration for its people; and our sincere appreciation for the ties between our nations,” said Lynch.

The items were recovered as a result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the work of the United States Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.

“Protecting the cultural heritage of our global community is important work and we are committed to identifying and returning these priceless items to their countries of origin and rightful owners,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, adding, “It’s the responsibility of law enforcement worldwide to ensure criminal smuggling organizations do not profit from the theft of these culturally and historically valuable items.”

Items returned included religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites, according to a DHS release. Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, India, which is valued at $1.5 million. Also included in the collection is a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh estimated to be 1,000 years old.

The majority of the pieces repatriated in the ceremony were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after HSI special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States manifested as “marble garden table sets.” Examination of the shipment in question revealed numerous antiquities. This shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who awaits trial in India.

HSI’s Operation Hidden Idol focused on the activities of former New York-based art dealer Kapoor, currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations. Artifacts were also found in the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex, who promptly partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor. Additionally, five individuals have been arrested in the United States for their role in the scheme. The estimated value of the artifacts seized so far in the case exceeds $100 million.

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