WASHINGTON – Over 200 artifacts were returned to the government of India June 6, 2016, by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch during a ceremony with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The items were recovered as a result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the work of the United States Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.Items returned included religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites. Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, India, which is valued at $1.5 million. Also included in the collection is a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh estimated to be 1,000 years old.

The majority of the pieces repatriated in the ceremony were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after HSI special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States manifested as “marble garden table sets.” Examination of the shipment in question revealed numerous antiquities. This shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who awaits trial in India.

HSI’s Operation Hidden Idol focused on the activities of former New York-based art dealer Kapoor, currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations. Artifacts were also found in the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex, who promptly partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor. HSI special agents have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor’s New York City gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer. Additionally, five individuals have been arrested in the United States for their role in the scheme. The estimated value of the artifacts seized so far in the case exceeds $100 million.

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