A 12th century Buddha statue stolen from India 57 years ago is to be returned to the Indian High Commissioner by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).
Detective Chief Inspector Sheila Stewart, who will be accompanied by officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, will hand over the statue to the Indian High Commissioner YK Sinha during a ceremony on Wednesday, 15 August at 10.00hrs, which coincides with India’s Independence Day celebrations.
The Buddha, a bronze statue with silver inlay, is one of 14 statues stolen in 1961 from the Archaeological Survey of India site museum in Nalanda in the eastern part of India.
The statue changed hands several times before eventually being delivered to a London dealer for sale. Once the dealer and the owner were made aware the Buddha was the same one that had been stolen from India, they co-operated fully with the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit and agreed for the piece to be returned to India.
The statue was identified at a trade fair in March 2018 by Lynda Albertson of Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) and Vijay Kumar from the India Pride Project, who then alerted police.
Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Met’s Art and Antique Unit, said: “The Art and antique Unit was founded fifty years ago and is one of the oldest specialist units in the Metropolitan Police Service. The unit has a long history of reuniting owners with their stolen property. We are delighted to be able to facilitate the return of this important piece of cultural heritage to India.
We have established there was no criminality by the current owner or the dealer who was offering it for sale. Indeed, from the outset, they have co-operated fully with the police to resolve this matter and they have made the decision to return the sculpture via the police. This case has been a true example of co-operation between law enforcement, the trade and scholars. Particular credit must go to the eagle-eyed informants who made us aware that the missing piece had been located after so many years.”
Michael Ellis, UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said: “As we celebrate India’s Independence Day, I am proud to highlight the latest example of the UK’s cultural diplomacy in action. Thanks to the work of the Metropolitan Police’s Arts and Antiques Unit, we are one of the first countries to recover one of the fourteen elusive Buddha statues stolen from Nalanda nearly sixty years ago. This underlines how law enforcement and the London art market are working hand in hand to deliver positive cultural diplomacy to the world”.