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Saturday, December 29, 2007
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Broken pieces of stolen artefacts recovered

Experts primarily confirm their genuineness

Officials of the National Museum look at the recovered pieces of broken Vishnu statues at Amin Bazar on the outskirts of the capital yesterday. Two Vishnu statues were stolen from the Zia International Airport on December 22. The officials, right, put broken pieces together in a bid to reassemble them. Photo: star/focus bangla

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.

INVESTIGATION

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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