The Black Rock of Durga Stele returned to the people of Nepal

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NEW YORK – Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. announced Aug. 24 the return of the Durga Stele, a 14th-century antiquity, to the people of Nepal. For centuries, the piece was recognized at a shrine in the Kathmandu Valley until it was stolen in the 1960s. It resurfaces on the New York art market in 2022 and is seized by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU).

The Durga Stele was returned in a repatriation ceremony on August 24 attended by the Acting Consul General of Nepal, Bishnu Gautam, and the Acting Deputy Special Agent in charge of Internal Security Investigations (HSI) at New York, Mike Alfonso.

“HSI is proud to be part of this great repatriation where a piece of history will be sent back to its home country,” said Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York. “The black stone stele of Durga was looted from a temple in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, but will be returned to its rightful home today so that its story can be shared with future generations of Nepalese. The group’s relentless efforts Cultural Property, Art, and Antiquities from HSI New York and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are essential to disrupting the illegal antiquities trade and ensuring these priceless artifacts find their way home.

“A single coin stolen from any country is one too many,” Bragg said. “The historical, artistic and cultural values ​​attached to the Durga Stele are immeasurable, and I am happy that it is returned to the people of Nepal”

Gautam said, “I express my deepest gratitude to District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. and his exceptional team, as well as to the United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations in New York and associated officials for their unwavering commitment and incredible cooperation.”

The Durga Stele, valued on the art market at around $18,000, was used in Hindu ceremonial rituals and depicts the goddess Durga. The piece surfaced along with many Nepalese statues smuggled by dealer and trafficker Doris Wiener in the 1960s before being sold to a private collector. When the piece was sold to the private collector, it still contained a ritual pigment – usually a mixture of sandalwood and turmeric – which would have been applied during religious ceremonies.

The repatriation of the Durga Stele stems from the Bureau’s investigation into Nancy Weiner, the daughter of Doris Weiner, who was convicted in September 2021 for her role in trafficking and selling stolen antiquities worth several million dollars in New York County.

The investigation was led by Assistant District Attorney Bradley Barbour, investigative analysts Daniel Healey, Hilary Chassé, and Apsara Iyer; and HSI Special Agent Igor Gamza, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, ATU Chief and Senior Counsel. Investigation support was provided by Dr. Erin Thompson.

HSI works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations and is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high priority organizations and strengthening international partnerships by matters of law enforcement. Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 15,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions. Members of the public who have information about the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of works of art, are asked to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-347-2423 or complete the online complaint form.

HSI is the primary investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, particularly criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance moves. HSI’s workforce of more than 10,400 employees includes more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative police presence overseas and one of the largest international law enforcement footprints in the United States.

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