Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Returns Pair of 12th Century Statues to The Republic of India

September 4, 2018

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the return of two antique statues to the Republic of India during a repatriation ceremony attended by the Consul General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty and Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Special Agent-in-Charge Angel M. Melendez.

“The pillaging of world heritage for profit is a tragedy,” said District Attorney Vance. “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 for the benefit of all those who seek to study, view, and appreciate these treasured relics.”

Consul General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty said: “We deeply appreciate the sincere efforts and collaboration received from the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, from the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Ackland Art Museum, as well as from the team at Homeland Security Investigations, who have worked assiduously for the return of these antiquities. We will continue to work closely with these agencies and with other U.S. authorities to work towards the restitution of antiques that belong in India.”

Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York, said: “The preservation of one’s culture is a commitment made by whole communities, and has existed since the beginning of time. And the arts and antiquities teams with HSI not only understand that commitment, but live it through their work when building investigations; working in partnership with the Manhattan DA’s office to return these artifacts to their rightful nations. Each of these items have a cultural significance in India and we are proud to be a part of their repatriation to their home country.

In August, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit seized two statues pursuant to a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation with partners in international law enforcement into the illicit trade of stolen antiquities.

The first statue, a granite sculpture depicting an iconic representation of the Hindu god Shiva (“Lingodbhava”), dates back to the Chola dynasty and 12th century. It was stolen from Tamil Nadu in the early 2000s and has a current approximate value of $225,000. The second phyllite sculpture depicts the bodhisattva of wisdom (“Majusri”) holding a sword and painted in gold leaf. Dating back to the Pala Period, circa the 12th century, the statue was stolen from a temple in Bihar in the late 1980s and has a current approximate value of $275,000.

Both of the items were forfeited once the owners were presented with evidence that the artifacts were previously stolen from India and seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants.

Antiquities Trafficking Unit

In December 2017, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced the formation of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, a special unit dedicated to investigating the illegal trade of stolen antiquities. To date, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million, many of which have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin. These items include three marble Lebanese statues; a Roman mosaic excavated from the Ships of Nemi; an Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a marble sarcophagus fragment; a Buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological dig site; and a set of ancient Greek coins, among others.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Hirsch, and Assistant District Attorney Jena Tiernan handled the recovery of the artifacts, with the assistance of Antiquities Trafficking Analysts Mackenzie Priest and Kathleen Walsh.

District Attorney Vance thanked the Consulate General of India in New York and HSI for their assistance with the matter.