Four Stolen Nepali Sculptures Repatriated to Consulate General of Nepal in New York

In a momentous occasion, the Consulate General of Nepal in New York formally received four historically significant Nepali sculptures at a special repatriation ceremony. The event took place in New York, where artifacts dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries were handed over to Acting Consul General Mr. Bishnu Gautam. The artifacts were presented by Manhattan District Attorney Mr. Alvin Bragg, Jr., and officials from Homeland Security Investigations-New York (HSI) of the US Department of Homeland Security.

The recovered treasures include two gilded Bhairav Masks (Mukhundo), a stone image of Shiva and Parvati (Uma-Maheshwara), and a representation of Durga. These artifacts symbolize Nepal’s rich cultural heritage and values, reflecting various aspects of its past.

In September 2022, social media posts and news coverage suggested that the mask had been stolen from a site in Dolakha in the 1990s. Following the Museum’s process, the Rubin immediately placed the work under review with its Collections team and independent researchers. Public signage was also displayed in the galleries, acknowledging this ongoing process.

Additionally, the Rubin reached out to the Consulate General of Nepal in New York to request support from the Government of Nepal in locating additional information related to the circumstances and documentation of the reported theft.

In March 2023, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office shared corroborating evidence with the Rubin, confirming that the mask was indeed stolen from a site in Dolakha in March 1994. Upon reviewing this documentation, the Rubin deaccessioned the work. On March 16, 2023, the Rubin voluntarily agreed to turn the work over to the DA’s office to facilitate its return to its lawful owner.

The Rubin had acquired the mask in 2005, and there was no evidence of theft or unlawful removal from Nepal at the time of acquisition until evidence was provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Before the Rubin’s acquisition, the work had been transacted on the art market, including a public auction at Sotheby’s in 1996.

The Consulate General had previously initiated collaboration with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to repatriate these antiquities. Today’s ceremony marks the successful fruition of these efforts. Acting Consul General Mr. Gautam expressed deep gratitude on behalf of the government and people of Nepal to District Attorney Mr. Bragg and his team, as well as the United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations-New York team and other officials for their incredible collaboration in the recovery and repatriation of these sculptures.

Mr. Gautam highlighted the significance of this collaboration in contributing to Nepal’s national initiative to recover and reinstate lost cultural properties while preserving historical treasures. He commended the effort as a commendable and inspirational step in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts.

District Attorney Mr. Bragg affirmed his commitment to targeting antiquities trafficking networks, expressing gratitude to his team and partners at HSI for successfully recovering and returning these cultural treasures to Nepal. He assured continued cooperation in repatriating other stolen and lost artifacts from Nepal.

Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo, HSI New York, emphasized the importance of the repatriation, stating, “The Nepalese culture finds its essence in the embrace of rich religious traditions, and the four artifacts being repatriated today hold significance in ceremonious worship.”

Senior officials from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and HSI-New York, including Chief of Staff Mr. Jordan Stockdale, Mr. Christopher Lau, and Col. Matthew Bogdanos, shared their views during the ceremony, reaffirming their commitment to ongoing collaboration with Nepal in tracing, investigating, recovering, and repatriating stolen cultural properties.

Col. Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, and Senior Trial Counsel, affirmed a commitment to continuous collaboration with Nepal. He stressed that the successful recovery of these artifacts is one of many examples of the ongoing cooperation from his office.

The Consulate General, actively engaged in collaboration with relevant government agencies and institutions of both countries, has successfully repatriated sixteen artifacts dating from the 10th to 17th century to Nepal. The Consulate plans to send the artifacts received today back to Nepal in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Archaeology of Nepal, and other relevant agencies and stakeholders soon.

Officials from the Consulate General, investigators, analysts, art professors, academia, museum officials, media representatives, and members of the Nepali community attended the ceremony, celebrating the successful repatriation of these culturally significant artifacts.