12:00 AM, December 26, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 26, 2007

Artefacts returned to museum from ZIA

Guimet to be asked not to hold the exhibition; already sent pieces might be brought back

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Pinaki Roy

The remaining 143 artefacts supposed to be sent to Guimet Museum in France are taken to the National Museum from Zia International Airport yesterday amid tight security.Photo: Focus Bangla

Around four days into the stealing of two Vishnu statues from the Zia International Airport (ZIA), the remainder of the 145 artefacts that had been awaiting shipment to Paris were brought back to the National Museum last evening.
Earlier in the day, a special meeting chaired by Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed decided not to send the age-old objects to the French capital before the theft case is resolved.
It also decided to inform France that it would not be possible to go ahead with the plan for the relics to be on display at the Guimet Museum there.
A committee headed by the cabinet secretary would be assigned to prepare a comprehensive report on the theft and review the agreement signed with France with regard to the exhibition.
After the meeting, a highly placed source said the government would send a letter to the museum authorities informing them of the circumstances that led to cancellation of the shipment.
Besides, measures would be taken to brink back the 42 items that were dispatched to France on December 1.
Despite protests from citizens and art connoisseurs, the government was sending the two Gupta era idols along with 143 other artefacts to the Guimet Museum.
Sculpted around 1500 years ago, 'Vishnu' and 'Bust of Vishnu' were stolen from the cargo village area at the Zia sometime between 10:00pm Friday and 12 noon Saturday while in the custody of Air France. The rest of the works of art were kept at the airport as a massive countrywide search for the stolen ones continued.
Meanwhile, a Dhaka court yesterday placed the 15 people detained for suspected links to the art theft each on a five-day remand.
Talking to The Daily Star over phone, Bangladesh Ambassador in Paris Mohammed Ruhul Amin yesterday said the Guimet Museum authorities have already opened the boxes containing the 42 artefacts and been preparing to install them in three rooms.
“As far as I know they were secured as of Monday,” he added.
An official from Air France said the remaining artefacts were packed again in presence of all concerned officials late in the afternoon. A covered van of Homebound Courier Services carrying the relics entered the National Museum premises at around 7:25pm.
A press release from Press Information Department (PIB) said the meeting chaired by the chief adviser was attended by concerned high officials of the government.
It said the government made the decision taking into consideration the public sentiment arising out of the theft.
The heist triggered off fresh protests against the government move to allow the rare artefacts to be sent abroad.
Meanwhile, the five-member committee formed by the government to probe the incident may submit their report tomorrow.
“We are taking statements of the concerned officials. Hopefully, we will submit the report in time,” said Mushfiq Ahmed, a member of the committee and general manager of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
He however did not say anything about their finds so far.
Contacted, the airport police said they were yet to have any possible leads to the missing statues.
Sub-Inspector Monu Sohel Imtiaz of the Airport Police Station, who is also the investigation officer (IO) of the case, produced the 15 detainees before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court and prayed for each to be remanded for 10 days. But the court granted for five days'.
Those remanded are Samiul Abedin, Masud Rana Saiful, Abu Bakar, Shariful Islam Manik, Mohammad Shahjahan, Mohammad Al Shamim, Belal Hossain, Amir Hamza, Abul Hossain, Abdul Halim Babul, Zaki Mahbub, Edward Roy, Debu Barua, Mohammad Solaiman and Sankar Chandra Dey.
As employees of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, Air France and Voyager Airlines, they were on duty at the cargo village during the time relics are believed to be stolen.
Sohel Imtiaz told The Daily Star last night that they have already started quizzing the arrestees.

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