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August 26, 2022New York, NY, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Black Rock of Durga Stele returned to people of Nepal

14th century antiquity venerated as shrine in Kathmandu Valley until stolen in 1960s

NEW YORK — Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced Aug. 24 the return of the Durga Stele, a 14th century antiquity, to the people of Nepal. For centuries, the piece was recognized in a shrine in the Kathmandu Valley until it was stolen in the 1960s. It resurfaced on the New York art market in 2022 and was seized by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU).

The Durga Stele was returned during a repatriation ceremony Aug 24 attended by Nepal’s Acting Consul General, Bishnu Gautam, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Deputy Special Agent in Charge Mike Alfonso.

“HSI is proud to be a part of this grand repatriation where a piece of history will be returned to its home country,” said Ricky J. Patel, acting special agent in charge of HSI New York. “The Black Stone Stele of Durga was looted from a temple in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal but will be returned today to its rightful home so its history can be shared with future Nepali generations. The relentless efforts of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Group and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is vital to disrupting the illegal trafficking of antiquities and ensuring these priceless artifacts find their way home.”

“A single piece stolen from any country is one too many,” said Bragg. “The historical, artistic, and cultural values attached to the Durga Stele are immeasurable, and I am pleased it is being returned to the people of Nepal”

Gautam said, “I extend my deep gratitude to District Attorney Mr. Alvin L. Bragg Jr. and his outstanding team and the United States Department of Homeland Security Investigations in New York and associated Officials for their steadfast commitment and incredible cooperation.”

The Durga Stele, valued on the art market at approximately $18,000, was used in Hindu ceremonial rituals and depicts the goddess Durga. The piece surfaced with numerous Nepali statues smuggled by dealer and trafficker Doris Wiener during the 1960s before being sold to a private collector. When the piece was sold to the private collector it still had ritual pigment – typically a mixture of sandalwood and turmeric – that would have been applied during religious ceremonies.

The repatriation of the Durga Stele arose from the Office’s investigation into Nancy Weiner, the daughter of Doris Weiner, who was convicted in September 2021 for her role in trafficking and selling millions of dollars’ worth of stolen antiquities in New York County.

The investigation was conducted by Assistant District Attorney Bradley Barbour, Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey, Hilary Chassé, and Apsara Iyer; and Special Agent Igor Gamza of HSI, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the ATU and Senior Trial Counsel. Investigative support was provided by Dr. Erin Thompson.

HSI works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations and is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high-priority organizations and strengthening international law enforcement partnerships. Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 15,000 objects to over 40 countries and institutions. Members of the public who have information about the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-347-2423 or to complete the online tip form.

HSI the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 09/06/2022