Homeland Security Investigations recovers one-of-a-kind Buddhist statue in Phoenix

Homeland Security Investigations recovers one-of-a-kind Buddhist statue in Phoenix
Homeland Security Investigations recovers ancient artifact in Phoenix (Source: Homeland Security Investigations)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recovered a 9th century Buddhist statue as a result of an investigation that began in October 2019.

The artifact was determined to have been purchased abroad and shipped into the U.S. illegally approximately half century ago. HSI special agents were able to locate the Buddhist statue after receiving information that the ancient statue was located at a private residence in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Based on that information, HSI contacted the current owner who had already expressed concerned over possessing the statue which she had inherited from family. According to the owner, she believed the original purchase took place over 50 years ago in the Middle East while she and her family lived abroad. After learning of the statue’s origins, the private collector voluntarily agreed to surrender the property to HSI so that it could be repatriated to India.

“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 special agents contacted a Northern Arizona University Professor of Art History & Asian Studies to assist with the proper identification of the Buddhist statue. The professor, an archeologist specializing in Asian art, was able to verify that the Buddhist statue, which weighs over 500 pounds and is 3 feet tall, was in fact the popular Mahayana Buddhist goddess Cundā that dates back to the 9th century and is considered a priceless piece of cultural property.

On Jan. 4, the Mahayana Buddhist goddess Cundā statue was seized by HSI for being imported into the United States contrary to law pursuant to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention of 1970 and the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPAI) – 19 USC 2604-2606.

Immediately following the seizure, the Mahayana Buddhist goddess Cundā statue was carefully prepared for transport to be housed in a specialized gallery pending its repatriation to India in the near future.

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