The United States has returned a pair of antique statues of the Lord Buddha that were recovered from an ongoing investigation in the US, to the Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in New York.
The artifacts were handed over to the Ambassador Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka and Mission officials by officials of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and the US Homeland Security Investigations.
The pair of statues were seized during an ongoing investigation by the District Attorney into a criminal smuggling network led by Subhash Kapoor, from 2011 to 2020, involving the recovery of more than 2,500 priceless artifacts of cultural and religious heritage from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, and other nations from Asia and the Middle East.
The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.
The two statues of a Standing Buddha in Abhaya Mudra date to the Kandyan Period and measure approximately 14 inches in height. This is the first recovery of artifacts from Sri Lanka in the US.
The Ambassador and the Asst. District Attorney exchanged an agreement acknowledging the handover of the two statues to Sri Lanka, to the custody of the Permanent Mission.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr joined the ceremony virtually and delivering a video address stated “we are incredibly pleased to be able to repatriate these beautiful pieces to their rightful owners – the people of Sri Lanka.”
The District Attorney urged that greater care must be taken by the Art world to ensure proper due diligence and provenance to ensure items are not cultural artifacts that have been stolen and trafficked. He encouraged the public to help their efforts by reporting items of questionable origin to their offices and partners.
Ambassador Pieris speaking on the occasion, thanked the District Attorney’s Office for their dedicated work to return invaluable artifacts to their countries of origin and spoke about the many historical links between people of New York and Sri Lanka, and was delighted that the recovery and restoration for the first time in the US, of two historically valuable artifacts of the Lord Buddha dating to the 18th Century, in New York, represented a new connection that contributed towards Sri Lanka’s rich religious and cultural heritage.
The Ambassador noted that cultural property was intrinsically related to the evolution of a nation’s identity, forming a vital link to the past, where from the present and future may be nurtured and enriched. He noted that it was therefore a moment of joy and cultural renewal, when artifacts are recovered and returned to their rightful owners.