US customs officials have seized two stolen ancient Indian statues believed to be dating to eighth and 10th centuries AD. The artefacts were reportedly recovered from Christie's auction house in New York City.
The statues were seized just days before a scheduled auction on 15 March, as part of the Asia Week New York festivities. Christie's had included the two relics in an auction titled The Lahiri Collection: Indian And Himalayan Art, Ancient and Modern. Both the statues represent ancient Hindu deities.
According to officials, one of the statues is about a 23in sculpture of Rishabhanata, the first Jain Tirthankara (a teacher who preaches dharma) seated in vajrasana (crossed leg pose). The statue dating to 10AD is flanked by a pair of standing attendants, and is valued at approximately $150,000 (£100,000).
The other statue depicts a very rare representation of the equestrian deity Revanta and his entourage. The 8th-century statue of the youngest son of the sun-god Surya is estimated at about $300,000, authorities said.
The artefacts were seized following an international investigation led by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, with assistance from the government of India and Interpol.
Officials said that both the artefacts had come from a specific smuggler and supplier of illicit cultural property in India. The statue of Rishbhanata appears to have been sold to London–based Brandon Lynch Ltd between 2006 and 2007.
"Every year, fine art collectors from around the world flock to New York for Asia Week, where they spent a reported $360 million last year on Asian antiquities and art," Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement, urging dealers and auction houses to be cautious and avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilisations. "If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities," he said.
According to ICE, to date HIS agents in the US have seized in excess of 2,500 artefacts worth over an estimated $10bn. These are smuggled from all around the world. More than 8,000 artifacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artefacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.