It’s taken a while, but India is finally welcoming home some long-lost national treasures.
The U.S. has handed back more than 200 ancient artifacts, valued at more than $100 million, that were stolen from religious sites in India and smuggled out of the country.
The artifacts included religious statues, bronzes and terracotta pieces, some of them dating back more than 2,000 years. They were returned to the Indian government Monday at a Washington, D.C. ceremony attended by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“On behalf of President Obama, it is my great privilege to return these marvelous objects to the people of India,” Lynch said.
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. Kapoor was arrested in 2012 and currently awaits trial in India.
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.
“Today, more than 200 antiquities and cultural artifacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home, where they can be studied and reflected upon for generations to come,” Lynch added. “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.”
Prime Minister Modi thanked the U.S. for returning the national treasures to their rightful home.
Among the pieces is a statue of Saint Manikkavacakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD), that was stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, India. It’s valued at $1.5 million. Another is a bronze sculpture of Hindu god Ganesha, which is estimated to be 1,000 years old.
Since 2007 the U.S. has returned more than 8,000 stolen artifacts to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; and cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.