Retrieved some broken pieces of stolen artifacts
Saturday, 29 December 2007

Retrieved some broken pieces of stolen artifactsInvestigators 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.

As of filing the report at 8:00pm, the law enforcers could manage to gather 27 pieces of the Gupta era idols--'Vishnu' and 'Bust of Vishnu'--at Baliarpur in Aminbazar.

Of the fragments salvaged, 20 make up less than 25% of Vishnu while the rest a little over 10% of the bust, Swapan Kumar Biswas, acting curator of the National Museum, told The Daily Star last evening.

The investigators, however, 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.

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

Earlier, a number of the arrestees have confessed to having a role in stealing the seventh century images of the Hindu God and tearing those to pieces. 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 of the case.

Though the pieces were primarily confirmed to be of the stolen relics, Swapan Kumar said, “If the authorities want, reconfirmation can be done. Besides, there is always a scope for scientific tests in this regard.”

The curator said they identified the pieces primarily by matching them with photographs of the statues. In cases of those too small to match the photographs, they were depending on their experience, he added.

The artefact pieces recovered include parts of the hand and leg of the black terracotta statuette of Vishnu standing with two other Hindu goddesses--Saraswati and Laxmi--on either side, and upper part of the biscuit colour bust including most of its crown.

“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,” said Captain Mahbubul Haider, one of those involved in the recovery drive.

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 artifacts 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 managed to round 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 on 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.


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