A Japanese art dealer was arrested at an Upper East Side hotel last month for a highly-specific crime—back in 1982, he purchased a stolen second-century Buddhist sculpture with a market value of $1.1 million. Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance's office and Homeland Security teamed up to seize the carved 440-pound artifact, and today Vance announced its return to Pakistan—where it had been lifted from an archeological dig site—under the approving gaze of Pakistani ambassador Rizwan Saeed Sheikh.
"This sculpture and others like it are so much more than commercial property—they represent ancient pieces of history and culture that should be celebrated and vigorously protected," said Vance in a statement.
Tatsuzo Kaku, a 70-year-old art and ancient artifacts dealer from Tokyo, was arrested on March 14th at the Mark Hotel on East 77th Street, according to the Post. He had apparently just agreed to ship the sculpture to the States to be sold at the Maitreya Inc. Gallery on East 75th Street, as part of Asia Week New York.
According to the DA's office, objects like the Buddhapada sculpture are protected under Pakistani law as "cultural property." This particular piece is from the Swat region of Pakistan, and depicts "footprints of the Buddha"—symbolic reminders that Buddha once walked the earth.
Kaku pleaded guilty to criminal possession of stolen property on March 24th. According to the NY Times, Asia Week New York is actually a gold mine for stolen artifacts—daily raids at this year's event turned up a handful of artifacts, all of which were looted from overseas. And those were just a drop in the bucket for Operation Hidden Idol, which has recovered more than 2,600 items over the last nine years.