WEB DESK: The US has returned an ancient stolen Buddhist stone sculpture to Pakistan which had been expected to sell for more than $1 million, Aaj News reported.
The 2nd Century piece, depicting Buddha’s footprints alongside religious symbols, was taken from the Swat Valley and eventually smuggled into the US.
It was returned by New York prosecutors to Pakistani Deputy Chief of Mission Rizwan Saeed Sheikh, who said it will remain in the city for the time being and may be exhibited at a museum.
A Japanese antiques dealer who brought it to the US from Tokyo pleaded guilty to possessing stolen property in April. The sculpture is also known as Buddhapada.
The sculpture was expected to reach $1m (£700,000) at auction, but the sale was intercepted by New York authorities.
Mr Sheikh said it was “an important element of the cultural history of Pakistan”, and would likely be kept in New York for the short term and possibly put on display.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr said the piece was “so much more than a piece of property”.
“It’s an ancient piece that speaks to the history and culture of Pakistan that should be celebrated and protected,” he told the Associated Press.
Antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku had said he was in part motivated by a desire to protect Pakistan’s artefacts, but this was dismissed by other experts, who said there were good structures in place in Pakistan for doing this.
Kazu paid a $5,000 fine and a sentence of time-served and left the country voluntarily. He said he knew it had been excavated and removed from the Swat River valley in 1982.
Prosecutors said he was spared prison time in part because he cooperated with an ongoing larger investigation. The district attorney’s office and federal agents have been looking into the illegal sale of other antiquities from the same part of the world.
Just days before Kaku’s arrest, two ancient Indian statues that had been smuggled out of that country and made their way to New York were seized from an auction house.
Additions from Associate Press