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HSI recovers ancient Buddhist statue in Phoenix that was shipped illegally to U.S. over 50 years ago

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Posted at 11:57 AM, Jan 06, 2021

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recovered a Buddhist statue in Phoenix that had been shipped illegally to the United States over 50 years ago.

HSI said the investigation for the 9th-century Buddhist statue began in October 2019 that was found to have been purchased abroad.

HSI special agents tracked down the Buddhist statue after it was located at a private home in the Phoenix area. Authorities contacted the current owner who had expressed concerns about owning the statue which she told HSI she had inherited from her family.

The owner told authorities she believed the original purchase happened over 50 years ago in the Middle East while she and her family lived abroad.

The private collector voluntarily agreed to surrender the ancient statue to HSI so that it could be repatriated to India after learning about its origins.

“Returning stolen cultural artifacts is a great example of the tireless work HSI does to combat those who seek to profit by plundering history,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for the HSI Phoenix Office. “I commend the special agents of HSI for their work on this case. I also want to recognize the private citizens and businesses who proactively cooperated with our investigations, doing their part to contact the authorities to ensure that these historic artifacts are returned to their rightful owners.”

In September 2020, HSI said the agency collaborated with a Northern Arizona University Art History & Asian Studies professor who confirmed the Buddhist state was of the Mahayana Buddhist goddess Cundā.

The statute dates back to the 9th century and is considered a priceless piece of cultural property, according to HSI.

The Mahayana Buddhist goddess Cundā statue was seized on January 4 and was immediately prepared for transport to be housed in a specialized gallery pending its repatriation to India.

The HSI Phoenix-led investigation with the help of HSI Attaché Office in New Delhi, India, and HSI Headquarters Cultural Property, Arts, and Antiquities (CPAA) Unit, International Operations Division in Washington, D.C.