Buddha statue
[Representational Image] US returns Buddha sculpture to Pakistan, but may remain in New York for a short while nowReuters / Damir Sagolj

The US has returned a historical Buddhist sculpture, which had gone missing in 1982, to the Pakistan government. It was smuggled into the US from Tokyo.

The 2nd century piece, called the Buddhapada, depicts footprints of the Buddha along with some religious symbols. It went missing from an archaeological dig in the Swat Valley of Pakistan 34 years ago.

A Japanese antiquities dealer has pleaded guilty to criminal possession of stolen property and smuggling the stone sculpture from Tokyo to the US expecting to sell it for $1m (£700,000).

New York prosecutors have returned the Buddhapada to Pakistan's 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, reported the Associated Press.

Feeling relieved after receiving the sculpture, which weighs nearly 500 pounds, Sheikh said that it was "an important element of the cultural history of Pakistan."

The New York police arrested the 70-year-old Japanese dealer, Tatsuzo Kaku, who made a plea in exchange for a $5,000 fine and a sentence of time served.

Kaku told the court that he knew it had been excavated and removed from Pakistan, and was motivated by a desire to protect Buddhist art, fearing it would be destroyed if it remained in Pakistan. However, other experts have said there is little truth in his statement.

Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R Vance Jr told the Associated Press that "it's an ancient piece that speaks to the history and culture of Pakistan that should be celebrated and protected."

Just a couple of days before Kaku was arrested, two other smuggled Indian artefacts were seized from an auction house before being sold in New York.