Thursday, October 23, 2003

Stolen ancient idol on its way back

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, October 22[2003

The 400-year-old masterpiece from Patan, which was stolen 19 months ago
and was about to be sold to a museum in Austria, is to be returned to
Nepal, thanks to some Buddhist sympathisers and scholars of Austria.

The 1.2-metre tall gilded head of Dipankar Buddha was stolen on February
16, 2002 from its caretaker's house at Chibah Nani in Nag Bahal. The
trust members reported the theft to the

District Police Office but in vain. The idol was discovered later when a
German art dealer, Peter Hardt, tried to sell it to Dr Schicklgruber,
the curator for South Asian art of the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, at
a price of $200,000 (Rs 16 million) in May 2002. When it was identified
as a stolen object by scholars of University of Vienna, with the help of
the Buddhist community of Lalitpur, the matter was reported to the
Interpol and the case taken to the court, which has now ordered to
return the image to Nepal.

"A series of lucky incidents led to the idol's discovery," Dr Alexander
v Rosatt, who had been involved in rescuing the stolen idol, told The
Himalayan Times today. He hoped that this particular incident would set
an example and it would make the smuggling of ancient art objects more
difficult in the future.

A special function is being organised on Friday in Kathmandu to hand
over the idol to the rightful owners. As Nepal does not have separate
Austrian ambassador to Nepal, the Austrian ambassador to India, Jutta
Setfan Bastl, is coming here with her credentials to hand over the idol
to the trust members through officials of Ministry of Culture, after
receiving credentials from King Gyanendra on the same day.

The idol would be flown free of cost courtesy Austrian Airlines and the
additional insurance and handling expenses will be met by local trust
members. Nepali government has not spent anything for the grand return.

It is the third instance when a stolen ancient idol is being returned to
Nepal, largely due to the efforts of the destination countries.

A local heritage lover said before the stolen object ended up with a
western art dealer, it was burgled by locals, sold by Nepali middlemen
and exported with the connivance of Nepali government officials.
According to him, it was officially exported with the proper
documentation of the Department of Archaeology.

"Unfortunately the western art dealer preferred to keep mum and the
Nepalis, including the government officials, involved in the smuggling
have escaped the net," said another expert on cultural heritage.
[The Himalayan Times (Kathmandu), October 23, 2003]