After five days of artefact theft from Zia International Airport (ZIA), investigators yesterday said a ring of smugglers based at the airport destroyed the precious archaeological masterpieces and dumped them in a dustbin in Uttara

ZIA-based smuggling ring destroyed stolen artefactsClaims Rab after arrest of 10 more but fails to recover remains in daylong search; motive still unexplainedJulfikar Ali Manik and Pinaki Roy Rapid Action Battalion personnel with the help of Dhaka City Corporation workers search for the remains of the two stolen Vishnu statues at a garbage-dumping site in Amin Bazar on the outskirts of the capital yesterday. Photo: STAR:  

The revelation was stunning although the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) could not recover the broken pieces of the stolen statues even after conducting massive raids in different areas following confessional statements of the arrested suspects. Rab officials raided dumping grounds, including those at Uttara, Jatrabari, Aminbazar and Savar, and thought to have found some pieces from two dumping grounds in Aminbazar and Savar. The National Museum authorities, however, said those do not match the stolen artefacts–a statue and a bust of Vishnu. The investigators could not also determine the motive behind the theft and destruction of the artefacts. But the police said it was learnt from the confessional statement that the leader of the smuggler group has links to an Islamic organisation. They are presently on a drive to capture the leader of the “Abbas-Nasir” ring, which is involved with the whole incident. Both Abbas and Nasir are still absconding. The Rab raided Abbas’ residence but failed to find him or learn his whereabouts. Meanwhile, the president accepted the resignation letter of Ayub Quadri, who stepped down as the cultural and education adviser on Wednesday amid uproar over artefact theft. Rab sources said the Abbas-Nasir group based at ZIA conducted the theft through a few of its members with the help of some civil aviation staff and drivers. The two 1,500-year-old terracotta statues bound for an exhibition at the Guimet Museum in Paris were stolen while in the custody of Air France at ZIA on December 22. The statues from the Gupta era had been displayed at the National Museum since they were discovered at Mahasthangarh in Bogra. Besides arresting 15 persons immediately after the incident, the Rab arrested 10 more people, including a former MP and a former deputy secretary, during the last 24 hours. In primary interrogation, the arrested confessed to their involvement with the theft and gave details of how they carried out the shameful act starting from stealing the precious statues to dumping them after destroying, a Rab official said. Rab sources said five of the arrested were involved with stealing the statues from the airport and they took the artefacts to Abbas’ house at 51/E, Road-7B in sector-3 in Uttara on December 22 morning. The culprits used a vehicle for carrying the stolen statues from the airport. The five include smuggler ring members and some airport staff including a driver of the Civil Aviation Authority. A Rab investigator said the smugglers enjoy regular free access to the highly secured cargo terminal area. When the stolen artefacts were landed at the car park of Abbas’ multi-storey residence, Abbas and three to four more identified persons were present there. The priceless national properties were destroyed between 10:00am and 1:00pm upon Abbas’ orders, an interrogator quoted from the confessional statement of Abbas’ arrested house cleaner who was involved with the act. Those who witnessed the heinous crime include arrested former MP Anwara Begum Putul, who owns three flats in the same apartment house, Rab said. Rab Additional Director General Colonel Gulzar Uddin Ahmed told The Daily Star last evening, “The motive behind stealing and destroying the artefacts will be revealed once Abbas is arrested.” The investigation officer of the case produced those who confessed to their involvement with the heinous act before a Dhaka court last evening, he added. Uttara Zone Deputy Commissioner of Police Khandaker Rafiqul Islam told The Daily Star, “A man named Abbas implemented the whole plan of stealing and destroying the artefacts. Interrogation has revealed that Abbas is involved with an Islamic organisation.” Andre Chenue, the consignee of the artefacts from Paris, nominated the Home Bound Bangladesh to send the artefacts by Air France. The name of Home Bound Bangladesh was found as the sender agent on the receipt of Association of Cargo Agents of Bangladesh although its officials repeatedly told The Daily Star that they did not book any cargo flight of Air France. The consignee had instructed Home Bound to send the artefacts as “general cargo” instead of “valuable cargo”, which is sheer negligence towards the country’s national properties. According to the agreement signed between France and Bangladesh, “The Borrower ensures the security of the artefacts in accordance with the security standards applicable to French Museum. The Borrower guarantees to the Lender that the loaned works are under continuous and vigilant protection.” Our court correspondent reports: The 10 arrested persons were produced before the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court yesterday and seven of them were taken for recording judicial statements. They are Lutfor Rahman, Monir Hossain, Nurul Islam Nuru, Mohammad Uzzal Hossain, Amir Hamza, Nikhil Chandra and Abdul Hamid. The three others are Anwara Begum, former deputy secretary SM Mizanur Rahman and Moksed Ali. The police prayed for 10 days’ remand for Anwara and Mizanur. The magistrate fixed Sunday for hearing on the prayer and sent the two to jail. The magistrate also ordered to send Moksed to jail as the police did not pray for any remand for him.