Stolen Vishnu Deity Returned to India


Apr 20, NEW YORK, NY (HPI) — A stolen 9th century stone Deity with carvings of all the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu began its journey back home to be reinstalled in the Varaha temple in Mandsour, Madhya Pradesh, from where it was stolen six years ago.

Indian Consul-General Neelam Deo and Special Agent in charge of investigation at the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Martin D. Ficke signed the papers at a brief ceremony on Monday, formally handing it over to India. This was one of the two Deities stolen. The search for the other is still on. Despite its tortuous journey to New York, the 127 cm tall and 71 cm wide Deity is in good condition with only a mark at the back from where it might have been chipped off at the Mandsour temple.

The recovery was described by Indian and United States officials as the "fruitful" result of coordinated investigations in India and the U.S. "The Government and the people of India greatly appreciate this gesture of goodwill from the government and people of the United States," Ms. Deo said.

Senior Special Agent James McAndrew, who investigated the case, said the probe led the investigators to Namkha Dorjee, owner of the Bodh Citta Gallery, who was operating from his apartment in New York. Once agents closed in, he voluntarily handed them the statue. Mr. McAndrew said that it was particularly difficult to investigate undocumented artefacts and a great deal depended on the way the theft is investigated in the home country. No arrest had yet been made in the U. S. as the crime could not be pinned on any individual.

The statue was originally destined for Switzerland but was diverted to Britain and papers were altered somewhere along the journey. The person who was responsible for sending it from Britain to the U.S. was reportedly killed in Afghanistan some time ago. He was apparently trying to smuggle out that country's heritage, American investigators said. It was only in 2003 that ICE received information from the Indian police and Interpol that the statue was in the United States, which ultimately led to its recovery.

New York is a major hub for the black market in art. Since art thieves tend to be tightly knit and well organized, it becomes more difficult to track pieces which are stolen from places like temples or archaeological sites as they are largely undocumented.

"Pieces stolen from museums, they are easy (to track). They are inventoried, catalogued but pieces like this (the Vishnu statue) aren't, and we really can't emphasise enough. We really rely heavily on foreign governments, the initial information and the work they have done, to at least begin to establish when this looting took place," said Jim McAndrew, Case Agent. The lack of documentation in architectural pieces means tracking their journey is even more difficult.


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