US returns ancient Buddhist sculpture to Pakistan

The sculpture of Buddha's footprints is known as a Buddhapada. Photo: AP

The US has returned an ancient Buddhist stone sculpture to Pakistan, from where it was stolen in the 1980s.

The 2nd Century piece, depicting Buddha's footprints alongside religious symbols, was taken from the Swat Valley and eventually smuggled into the US.

A Japanese antiques dealer who brought it to the US from Tokyo pleaded guilty to possessing stolen property in April.

The sculpture was expected to reach $1m (£700,000) at auction, but the sale was intercepted by New York authorities.

New York prosecutors returned the sculpture to Pakistan's Deputy Chief of Mission Rizwan Saeed Sheikh at a ceremony on Wednesday.

Sheikh said it was "an important element of the cultural history of Pakistan", and would likely be kept in New York for the short term and possibly put on display.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr said the piece was "so much more than a piece of property".

"It's an ancient piece that speaks to the history and culture of Pakistan that should be celebrated and protected," he told the Associated Press.

Antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku had said he was in part motivated by a desire to protect Pakistan's artefacts, but this was dismissed by other experts, who said there were good structures in place in Pakistan for doing this.

Kazu paid a $5,000 fine and a sentence of time-served and left the country voluntarily.