Afghan museum staff unpacking a UK Border Force seizure at the British Museum

Hundreds of stolen items returned to Kabul

Patrick Steel, Issue 112/09, p11, 01.09.2012
London philanthropist helps in the return of 825 items to Afghan museum
Some of the 825 stolen objects returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul in July, with the assistance of the British Museum and Ministry of Defence, were saved by a London-based philanthropist.

The British Museum’s Middle East curator, John Simpson, said the philanthropist offered to acquire the objects for the Afghan museum if the British Museum could “advise on legality and process” and act as an intermediary.

A sculpture of Buddha and examples of the Begram Ivories were among items stolen from the museum during the 1992-1996 civil war in Afghanistan and sold on the black market.

Simpson said the philanthropist “is someone who feels strongly about Afghanistan and the National Museum of Afghanistan and wanted to help them”.

The Buddha was acquired from a private collection in Japan in early 2011, while the ivories were acquired in 2010, from an unknown source.

“We can only presume that they were bought in good faith prior to being acquired by the philanthropist,” said Simpson.

The ivories were displayed in the British Museum’s 2011 exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, while the Buddha was on display in the museum’s enlightenment gallery during.

The other objects returned to the Afghan museum included 803 items seized by the UK Border Force and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police.

The British Museum identified the objects and advised the police on their repatriation.

It also made records of all the objects, consistent with the Afghan museum’s records, for their Afghan colleagues.

The Buddha is now on display in Kabul. The National Museum of Afghanistan’s curator, Fahim Rahimi, said: “I hope this process of returning artefacts continues and we get our heritage that has been looted back.”


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