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DRI to bring back stolen antiques smuggled to the US

All the 126 pieces are slated to return India on May 17, DRI officials said, attributing the breakthrough to its close coordination with the US agencies.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2017 13:17 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Rajesh Ahuja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A 1200AD statue of Lord Vishnu sitting over Garuda is among the antiques recovered in India before they were to be shipped out to the United States.(HT PHOTO)

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) is bringing back more than a hundred antique pieces including three major ones that were stolen and smuggled to the United States from India.

All the 126 pieces are slated to return India on May 17, DRI officials said, attributing the breakthrough to its close coordination with the US agencies.

Before this, the agency had managed to bring back six antique pieces from the US. That set included a fifth century idol of Durga and three sculptures stolen from a temple in Rajasthan’s Atru and smuggled to the US.

Recent Detetections
  • October, 2016 – During search of two residential premises in Chennai, stone statues of Buddha, stone pillars, wood carvings were recovered before the items could be smuggled out of India
  • November 2016 – A foreigner was intercepted at the New Delhi international airport when he was about to take a flight to Zurich, Switzerland. Examination of his baggage resulted in recovery of eight items from 17th to 19th century. In a follow-up search, the agency recovered a rare Persian manuscript
  • February 2017 – DRI recovered 41 pieces of antiques from searches conducted at residential premises and a warehouse in Mumbai. The recoveries included terracotta figurines from the first century and bronze figurines of Mahishasur Mardini and Ganesha from 17th and 18th century
  • April 2017 – The DRI and the UP police in a joint operation recovered a freshly excavated 12th century antique sculpture of Lord Vishnu sitting on a Garuda that was made of black basalt stone. It was about to smuggled out of India

“The DRI has been patiently and painstakingly pursuing legal and administrative procedures with agencies such as Immigration & Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice in the US and providing evidences or expert opinions as and when required to get the antiques shipped back to India from US,” said DP Dash, DRI director general.

As per the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, antiques are defined as coins, sculptures, paintings, articles or objects detached from a building or a cave or other articles that illustrate science, art or crafts and are in existence for more than 100 years.

DRI officials say Indian antiques have a huge demand and market in western Europe, the US and Gulf countries. Wealthy collectors and auction houses purchase them at very high prices.

“Around half a dozen cases detected in the last six months show smuggling syndicates use local criminals to steal antiques, especially from temples in south and east India. Then these are smuggled out concealed in furniture or handicraft or readymade garments export consignments,” said a DRI investigator.

“But now since these items are being brought back to India, it may act as another deterrent to stop their smuggling,” said the DRI investigator.

The investigator added that the agency is also preserving Indian cultural heritage as and when it goes after the antique smuggling gangs.

First Published: Apr 20, 2017 09:50 IST