Broken pieces of stolen artefacts recovered.

(Original News From The Daily Star)

Investigators yesterday retrieved some broken pieces of the two stolen Vishnu statuettes from a dump on the city outskirts and the National Museum authorities confirmed that those belong to the 1,500-year-old relics.

So far, the law enforcers have managed to gather 27 pieces of the Gupta era idols–‘Vishnu’ and ‘Bust of Vishnu’–at Baliarpur of Aminbazar.

Of the fragments salvaged, 20 make up about 25% of the black terracotta statuette of Vishnu where the Hindu god stands with goddesses Saraswati and Laxmi on either side. The remainder pieces comprise a little over 10% of the bust, Swapan Kumar Biswas, acting keeper of the National Museum, told The Daily Star last evening.

Sub-inspector Monu Sohel Imtiaz, investigation officer of the case filed for the theft, said the retrieved pieces form 80% of the goddess portion and only a fraction of the hand [one hand was already missing] and legs of Lord Vishnu.

They make up upper part of the biscuit colour bust including most of its crown, he added.

The investigators, meanwhile, have yet to know the motive for the theft and destruction of the age-old objects that were stolen from the Zia International Airport (ZIA) last weekend. The two along with 143 others had been awaiting shipment to Paris for an exhibition at the Guimet Museum.

“We are now concentrating on further interrogation of the arrestees and efforts to hunt down Abbas,” Additional Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) Colonel Gulzar Uddin Ahmed told The Daily Star yesterday.

Earlier, a number of the arrestees have confessed to having a role in stealing the seventh century images and tearing those to shreds. They have named Abbas to be the mastermind.

The Rab official also said that the chips that have been recovered so far would be handed over to the investigation officer and used as evidence in trial.

Though they were confirmed to be of the stolen relics, if the authorities want, reconfirmation can be done. Besides, there could always be a scientific test in this regard, Swapan Kumar said.

He added that they identified the pieces primarily by matching them with photographs of the statues. In cases of those too tiny to match the photographs, they were depending on their experience.

“It would have felt great had the artefacts been recovered intact. It really hurts to see them smashed into pieces as they can neither be remade nor be restored to their previous condition,” said the stand-in keeper.

Captain Mahbubul Haider of Rab, one of those involved in the recovery drive, said “The pieces that are being retrieved are very small and I’m afraid we won’t be able to get back every part of the relics.”

Talking to The Daily Star, he also described the sequence of events leading to the retrieval.

He said as it took six days for them to obtain the confessions, the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) cleaners by that time had taken remains of the broken statuettes collected as garbage from Uttara to a vast 300-acre dump at Baliarpur.

Unable to trace the broken off parts in Uttara, the investigators contacted the DCC staff who had collected the garbage of December 22. With help of the DCC staffers, the law enforcers marked the area at Baliarpur where garbage from Uttara is usually dumped.

They began search through the trash spread over 200 by 200 yards Thursday but did not find anything that day.

They continued scavenging through the waste piled up over the days since disposal of the artefacts and at around 11:00am yesterday they struck the leg of Vishnu.

Most of the pieces were recovered late in the afternoon. Working throughout the day, some 200 Rab personnel and 25 DCC teams rounded up around 200 pieces. Later, two National Museum officials including Swapan Kumar identified 27 pieces as parts of the stolen idols.

Shafiqul Alam, the other member of the identification team, is a conservator (wood and paper).

Observers said instead of someone specialising in wood and paper, terracotta experts should have been involved in the job to ensure the identification is accurate and flawless.


A Rab official seeking anonymity said Abbas of the ‘Abbas-Nasir’ group, a ZIA-based gang accused of committing the theft, is known as a smuggler in Uttara. His passport seized by the law enforcers identifies him as a businessman.

The elite crime-buster added that Abbas, who has numerous allegations of smuggling against him, had travelled to many countries. Besides smuggling, his group has long been involved in stealing from the cargo terminal.

The Rab was raiding different places in the city and elsewhere to arrest six to seven members of the ring.

The motive for the heist could become clear once Abbas is captured, said a Rab official.

Bangladesh adviser quits over artefact theft.

The adviser to Bangladesh’s army-backed interim government for education and cultural affairs, Ayub Quadri, resigned on Wednesday amid an inquiry into the theft of two rare archaeological artefacts, his family and friends said.

They said Quadri tendered his resignation citing unexplained personal grounds but government officials said it was linked to the theft of two statues of Hindu Lord Vishnu on Saturday.

The antiques were lost while being boarded in a Paris-bound plane at the Dhaka airport, which was waiting to fly a consignment of antiques from Bangladesh for an exhibition at the Guimet museum in Paris.

Officials at the Dhaka National Museum said the Vishnu antiques were sculptured about 1,500 years ago and were among the rarest archaeological objects in Bnagladesh.

Quadri later told reporters he would share responsibility for the loss of the artefacts and might consider quitting his government post.

The first consignment of artefacts was already flown to Paris by a French aircraft before authorities stopped the second shipment following detection of the theft.

“The government has decided to regret to the Guimet Museum in Paris that it would not be possible to go ahead … as planned,” said a statement from the office of the head of the interim government on Tuesday.

The decision was made as opposition from art lovers and conservers against the shipment of the rare artefacts to France had intensified following theft of two Vishnu statues.

Police detained 15 suspects and were interrogating them.The art lovers had earlier protested against the shipment as they were worried artefacts might be stolen during shipment.

2 Paris-bound statues stolen from ZIA

Amid tight security, two 1,500-year-old terracotta Vishnu statues bound for an exhibition in Paris were stolen while in the custody of Air France at the Zia International Airport (ZIA) Saturday.

Named ‘Vishnu’ and ‘Bust of Vishnu’, the statues are from Gupta era of the seventh century. Since being discovered in a dig at Mahasthangarh of Bogra, they had been kept at the National Museum.

Their insurance value totalled 45,000 euros that is equivalent to around Tk 45 lakh, sources at the cultural ministry said.

Despite protest from art connoisseurs, the government was sending the statues along with 143 other artefacts to the Guimet Museum in the French capital under a deed signed with France. In the first phase, it sent 42 relics on December 1.

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Sending artefacts to Paris starts

(Source: The Daily Star)

Artefacts being loaded on trucks from Bangladesh National Museum yesterday for sending them to the Guimet museum in Paris for exhibition. Photo: STAR

Finally, the government yesterday began sending artefacts to France for an exhibition in Paris.

At least 10 out of 23 boxes of around 200 relics collected from three museums were sent in the first phase. The rest will be flown soon, said sources.

The exhibition will take place at Guimet Museum in the French capital. The exact date of the event, however, could not be known.

The decision to give the artefacts to France under an agreement signed between the cultural affairs ministry and representatives of the French government has caused a huge public furore.

The exhibition originally scheduled for October 23 was deferred after the High Court in Dhaka had issued a two-month stay on

sending the artefacts out of the country. Besides, eminent citizens, civil society members, cultural activists, and students took to the streets protesting the government’s move.

Demonstrations continued in Shahbagh area in front of the National Museum yesterday.

Protesters formed a human chain as the staff of Homebound, the company hired to carry the artefacts, were getting the boxes onto trucks.

Many gathered there early in the morning hearing that the first batch of artefacts would be taken to Paris yesterday. They chanted slogans when the vehicles carrying those were leaving the National Museum premises in the afternoon.

Police picked up one demonstrator but later released him.

Archaeology experts, artists and citizens have alleged that the deal signed between the two governments is riddled with irregularities. It does not give exact number of the artefacts to be sent and their insurance cover, and lacks authentic counter signature and video documents, they claimed.

They fear some of those might not even be returned after the display.

However, the government and French embassy in Dhaka have maintained all along that all issues of concern have been addressed properly and each of those artefacts will be flown back home safe and sound.