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New York District Attorney returns Artifacts from 18th Century recovered from investigation to Sri Lanka Permanent Mission

Friday, 26 March 2021

Ambassador Pieris and Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos exchange agreements

The Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. returned a pair of antique statues of the Lord Buddha, dating to the 18th Century recovered from an ongoing investigation to the Sri Lanka Permanent Mission in New York on Thursday, 26th March 2021.

H.E. Ambassador Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka and Mission officials received officials of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and the US Homeland Security Investigations, whom handed over the artifacts at a solemn ceremony at the Permanent Mission. Satya Rodrigo, Deputy Permanent Representative welcomed participants to the Mission for the ceremonial handover of the artifacts.

Video address of District Attorney of Manhattan Cyrus Vance Jr 

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr joined the ceremony virtually and delivering a video address stated “we are incredibly pleased to be able to repatriate these beautiful pieces to their rightful owners – the people of Sri Lanka.” The District Attorney urged that greater care must be taken by the Art world to ensure proper due diligence and provenance to ensure items are not cultural artifacts that have been stolen and trafficked. He encouraged the public to help their efforts by reporting items of questionable origin to their offices and partners

Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN

Ambassador Pieris speaking on the occasion, thanked the District Attorney’s Office for their dedicated work to return invaluable artifacts to their countries of origin and spoke about the many historical links between people of New York and Sri Lanka, and was delighted that the recovery and restoration for the first time in the US, of two historically valuable artifacts of the Lord Buddha dating to the 18th Century, in New York, represented a new connection that contributed towards Sri Lanka’s rich religious and cultural heritage.

Remarks by Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos

The Ambassador noted that cultural property was intrinsically related to the evolution of a nation’s identity, forming a vital link to the past, where from the present and future may be nurtured and enriched. He noted that it was therefore a moment of joy and cultural renewal, when artifacts are recovered and returned to their rightful owners. Noting the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”, Ambassador Pieris highlighted a number of ways that states could combat illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts, such as advocacy and awareness raising, expansion of specialised museum and heritage studies courses, digitisation of collections in national institutions and greater cooperation and collaboration between Interpol, WCO, ICOM and UNESCO through appropriate capacity building in countries.

Unveiling the two statues

Full text of the Address of the Ambassador follows below.

Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos representing the District Attorney’s Office appreciated the valuable artifacts from Sri Lanka represented a long cultural heritage of thousands of years and that he was pleased that their team could play a role in the restoration of  artifacts to Sri Lanka that represented not just a “part of Sri Lanka’s glorious civilization” but were “living and breathing artifacts of a shared cultural heritage”. He noted that their investigations had recovered thousands of artifacts and pledged that they would not rest until other artifacts were recovered and returned to their rightful countries.

Two Statues from 18th Century 

The pair of statues were seized pursuant to an ongoing investigation by the District Attorney into a criminal smuggling network led by Subhash Kapoor, from 2011 to 2020, involving the recovery of more than 2,500 priceless artifacts of cultural and religious heritage from  Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, and other nations from Asia and the Middle East. The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million.

Ambassador Pieris, Satya Rodrigo, DPR, Special Agent John Paul Labbat & Apsara Iyer, Antiquities Trafficking Analyst  

The two statues of a Standing Buddha in Abhaya Mudra date to the Kandyan Period and measure approximately 14 inches in height. This is the first recovery of artifacts from Sri Lanka in the US.

The Ambassador and the Asst. District Attorney exchanged an agreement acknowledging the handover of the two statues to Sri Lanka, to the custody of the Permanent Mission. Following the exchange, Ambassador Pieris and Special Agent John Paul Labbat unveiled the two statues to the audience.

Asst. District Attorney Col. Matthew Bogdanos was accompanied by Ms. Apsara Iyer and Ms. Madeleine Gordon, Antiquities Trafficking Analysts and Group Supervisor Stephen Lee, and Special Agents John Paul Labbat, Robert Fromkin and Igor Gamza of Homeland Security Investigations.


Text of Remarks by H.E. Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka at ceremony to handover artifacts to Sri Lanka recovered by the District Attorney of New York,

Thursday, 25th March 2021 (Link)

Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

New York

26th March 2021

Media Release from the District Attorney’s Office: