NEW YORK - U.S authorities on Tuesday returned one of the world's most wanted stolen artworks and two other pieces to the Indian government - staging the celebration after a monthlong clash over the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York.
The sandstone antiquities depicting Hindu deities were handed over at India's consulate in Manhattan. The national anthems of both nations were played at the start of the event.
Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay denied there was any link between the timing of the repatriation and the U.S.-Indian rift after last month's arrest of his deputy, Devyani Khobragade. A U.S. grand jury indicted her on accusations she exploited her Indian-born housekeeper and nanny and lied about it on a visa form.
The art-related ceremony "was planned sometime back," Mulay said. But he acknowledged that although India and the United States have "an ongoing strong partnership ... all partnerships have their issues."
The Indian diplomat offered no further comment on the subject as he led the ceremony with Shawn Bray, the director of Interpol in Washington, and James Dinkins, a top official at Homeland Security Investigations that conducts looted art probes.
"This case would not have been successful without the collaboration between the United States and India," Dinkins told those gathered in the ballroom of the consular mansion off Fifth Avenue.
The center of attention was the 350-pound "Vishnu and Lakshmi" sandstone sculpture from the 11th or 12th century stolen in 2009 from the Gadgach Temple in the Rajasthan state. Interpol had listed it as No. 6 on the world's top 10 most wanted artworks.