A Twelfth Century Buddha statue stolen from India in 1961 will be returned after it was spotted for sale at a trade fair.
The 900-year-old bronze statue, with silver inlay, was found by “eagle-eyed” experts at a trade fair in March 2018 – 57 years after it was stolen from a museum site.
It changed hands several times before it was delivered to a London dealer for sale, the Metropolitan Police said.
The statue will be handed to the Indian High Commissioner, YK Singha, today (Weds) to coincide with the country’s independence day celebrations.
Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, from the Met’s art and antique unit, said: “The Art and Antiques Unit was founded fifty years ago and is one of the oldest specialist units in the Metropolitan Police Service.
“The unit has a long history of reuniting owners with their stolen property.
“We are delighted to be able to facilitate the return this important piece of cultural heritage to India.
“We have established there was no criminality by the current owner or the dealer who was offering it for sale.
“Indeed, from the outset they have co-operated fully with the police to resolve this matter and they have made the decision to return the sculpture via the police.
“This case has been a true example of co-operation between law enforcement, the trade and scholars.
“Particular credit must go to the eagle-eyed informants who made us aware that the missing piece had been located after so many years.”
The statue is one of 14 stolen in 1961 from the Archaeological Survey of India site museum in Nalanda in the eastern part of India.
Once the dealer and the owner were told it was stolen, they agreed for the piece to be returned to India.
It was spotted at the trade fair by Lynda Albertson, from the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, and Vijay Kumar from the India Pride Project, who then alerted police.
Michael Ellis, UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said: “As we celebrate India’s Independence Day, I am proud to highlight the latest example of the UK’s cultural diplomacy in action.
“Thanks to the work of the Metropolitan Police’s Arts and Antiques Unit, we are one of the first countries to recover one of the fourteen elusive Buddha statues stolen from Nalanda nearly sixty years ago.
“This underlines how law enforcement and the London art market are working hand in hand to deliver positive cultural diplomacy to the world”.