US returns 200 rare artefacts to India

WASHINGTON • The United States has returned more than 200 precious artefacts to India in a ceremony that visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, the US Justice Department said.

The items, some more than 2,000 years old, include religious statues, bronzes and terracotta pieces.

They were recovered during Operation Hidden Idol, a 2007 probe into the activities of art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is now awaiting trial in India on charges of looting millions of dollars' worth of rare antiquities from around the world.

"The US is committed to ensuring that no nation is robbed of the objects that inform its identity, shape its traditions and inspire its citizens," said US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch at Monday's ceremony.

"Today... more than 200 antiquities and cultural artefacts that speak to India's astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home," she added.

A statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet, which is valued at US$1.5 million (S$2 million), and a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh, estimated to be 1,000 years old, are among the artefacts.

US President Barack Obama welcomed Mr Modi to the White House this week in a nod to the improved ties between the world's two biggest democracies. Mr Modi has made four visits to the US - two to Washington - since taking office, while Mr Obama has twice visited India.

Mr Modi will also become the fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint session of the US Congress.

And in another win for Mr Modi, the members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a key anti-proliferation grouping, have agreed to admit India, diplomats said. A deadline for the members of the 34-nation group to object to India's admission expired on Monday without any of them raising objections. India's admission hence follows automatically, diplomats from four MTCR member nations said.

Admission to the MTCR would open the way for India to buy high-end missile technology, and make more realistic its aspirations to buy state-of-the-art surveillance drones such as the US Predator.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'US returns 200 rare artefacts to India'. Print Edition | Subscribe