The artefacts include religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some of which date back to 2,000 years, which were looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites.
They were returned to the Indian government at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The meeting was attended by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“For some, these artifacts may be measured in monetary terms but for us this is beyond that. It’s a part of our culture and heritage,” said Modi.
Among the pieces is a statue of Saint Manikkavacakar. The saint was a Hindu mystic and poet who lived during the ninth century. That statue was stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, India. It is valued at $1.5 million. Another is a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha. It is estimated to be close to 1,000 years old.
“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 US Attorney General Loretta E Lynch.
Here are pictures of some of the artefacts. pic.twitter.com/Q4PWMOee2X
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 7, 2016
Most of the pieces were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after Homeland Security special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States and labeled as “marble garden table sets.”
Examination of the shipment in question revealed numerous antiquities. The shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery in New York. The investigation found that Kapoor allegedly created false provenances to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The stolen treasures were recovered as a result of a massive collaborative effort between U.S. customs officials, New York and federal prosecutors, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
Prime Minister Modi thanked the U.S. for returning the national treasures to their rightful home.