chain of thefts
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We began by local thefts of antiquities. We thought about the illegal trade of artefacts, the rackets that were involved and the markets that were ready buyers for them. We wanted to investigate if there were any international conventions that bar the practice and we also wanted to know what were the provincial and federal archaeological departments doing to protect whatever was under their control. We were aware of some recent important thefts and equally aware that those responsible were not apprehended.
But what exactly is at stake to generate so much of interest and to warrant thefts, illegal trade and even fake production of artefacts was our next obvious query. Experts tell us that this land has been the seat of some of the oldest civilizations of the world, Gandhara, Indus and the most recent Islamic era.
So what is it that makes people steal whatever has been made available as a result of archaeological excavations. What are the markets where these artefacts end up? This brought us to the most interesting part of the debate. Here the locally understood word 'theft' came to be replaced by 'plundering' and 'pillage' in a domain that was now international. We understood that there was one whole chain of thefts that's been going on for centuries. Those who claim to have the copyrights of knowledge took these objects and manuscripts from world's cultural heritage sites into their museums as a matter of right.
Ironically it is these very countries that have realised the need for laws and conventions for protection and conservation of these invaluable objects from both artistic and anthropological point of view. This looks like an exercise in futility when one sees the way heritage was plundered in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The petty thieves are only following the lead of bigger thieves.
By Aziz Omer
In this age of scientific advancement, it is highly deplorable that the prevention of the illegal trade of cultural and historical artefacts is still quite rampant, with the objects being sold at prestigious auctions such as those of Sotheby's and Christie's.
After the widespread devastation caused by World War I, concerted efforts were made to safeguard and preserve the historical antiquities that had escaped destruction. The cultural and artistic treasures of any civilization such as those in Africa or Latin America had, from time to time during history, been ransacked by any successive tribe or invading armies. The discreetly carried out raiding of temples and tombs, and their illicit transfer to private collectors is a phenomenon of the past 200 years or so. This period also coincides with the development of modern archaeology and related excavations, such as those in Egypt and South America.
Yet, it was not until as late as 1972 that a landmark convention was proposed and endorsed by the member states of UNESCO. The draft recognised the world's cultural heritage sites and related objects invaluable from an artistic, aesthetic, ethnological and anthropological aspect and called for their protection and conservation. The convention came about as a result of successful conservation campaigns sparked off by the saving of the temples of King Ramses II at Abu Simble in Egypt, which would have been flooded in the wake of the construction of the Aswan Dam. Similar campaigns in Italy and Indonesia, including the one involving the ruins at Moenjodaro in Pakistan, displayed UNESCO's resolve in safeguarding cultural heritage, often at the cost of millions of dollars.
But then, again, there can be a significant difference in something being on paper and its implementation. The World Heritage Committee comprises representatives from 21 of the States, parties or countries that have adhered to the 1972 'Convention concerning the protection of the world's cultural and natural heritage'.
Although the committee has held regular sessions each year since 1977, there have still been a sizeable number of instances in which thousands of priceless artefacts were plundered and sold off. Some of the most glaring examples are the looting occurrences in events leading up to and following the US-led Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.
Apart from the destruction of the giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban, countless other cultural objects were stolen from the National museums at Kabul. The Red List of Afghanistan Antiquities at Risk has been compiled by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and highlights artefacts dating back to the Stone Age. Similarly, there is a red list for the historical pieces looted from the national Museum at Baghdad in the apparent confusion following the breakout of the war in 2003. Quite ironically, both these lists along with others have been compiled with the support of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Even with the artefacts being pillaged in the chaos ensuing from the US initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the superpower is still credited as the largest donor of official development assistance (ODA). This is notwithstanding the fact that the antiquities from these war torn regions as well as those stolen from within European states such as Italy have surfaced in US museums. After much contention on the part of the Italian authorities, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts have all agreed to return the stolen objects.
Japan, which is regarded as the second-largest donor of ODA is still trying to sincerely mend its past image as that of a culturally plundering nation. Since the 16th century, Japanese armies have invaded its Asian neighbours and subsequently colonised some such as Korea. Myriad monuments, statues and porcelain items were seized by Japanese marauders. The island state has since the 1980s proclaimed itself as the guardian of valuable foreign cultural assets. Yet it was as late as 2002 that the country finally ratified the 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Along with Britain, Japan has long been considered as a golden market for precious stolen cultural assets, especially those from troubled and conflict stricken regions. The militia organisations from many such hot spots have financed their military campaigns from the sale of the items in the black-market.
Even prior to the 1972 UNESCO convention, the ones at Hague, in 1899, 1907, 1954, and the Washington Pact of 1935 emphasised the need to protect cultural assets from damage in wars and from smugglers. Terms such as having 'recognised', 'identified', 'being convinced and determined' are a common feature of such treaties, with the signatories increasing along the way. With those of the 1972 convention now having reached 183, it is surprising that the trade in artefacts should now amount to $4 billion annually according to Interpol estimates.
Despite another important convention being endorsed in 1995, that of the UNIDROIT that developed upon the 1972 convention by unifying private and public law issues, the illegal antiquities trade has grown to being second only to that of contraband drugs. And, so, it will require a much greater amount of policing as well as awareness on the part of the buyers and the locals of affected regions to substantially curb this destruction of our historical legacy.
It's been almost five years since the holy slippers were stolen from Lahore Badshahi Mosque without any breakthrough in investigation
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore is a great attraction for tourists for more than one reasons. Apart from its majestic architecture and grandeur that stuns a first time visitor, the showcasing of 27 holy relics attributed to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and other luminaries of early period of Islam in its gallery adds a lot more value to this historic monument.
It was the night of July 31, 2002, when news about theft of one of the three pairs of slippers, said to belong to the Holy Prophet, from Badshahi Mosque started making rounds in the city. The news was soon confirmed by the mosque administration which said some unidentified people had made away with the slippers at round 9:30 pm at night. Ghulam Shabbir, an employee of Punjab Auqaf Department appointed at Badshahi Mosque at the time reported the theft at Tibbi City police station. The police rushed to the spot and found the glass rack containing the relics cut with some diamond-tipped object.
What followed was immense hue and cry raised by different religious groups. There were calls to recover the stolen slippers as well as sacking of provincial Auqaf minister and all others responsible for not being able to protect the relic. Finding no other way to pacify the protesters, the Punjab government immediately announced a reward of Rs two million for anyone providing information about the holy slippers.
Despite repeated inquiries, the investigating authorities could not trace the culprit and after initial inquiry released those who were taken in custody on suspicion of facilitating the theft. The strongest rumour at that time was that the government had sold the Holy slippers to the Sultan of Brunei who had offered huge amount of money in return.
However, Lahore's District Nazim Mian Amir Mehmood ruled this out by saying that though the Holy slippers were earlier dispatched to Brunei on a request made by the Sultan, they arrived back home in time and were again placed in the gallery. His contention was that such clandestine sale was not possible as different federal and provincial departments had thoroughly examined the holy relics before being dispatched to Brunei and on their return.
It has been almost four years and nine months since the incident but no breakthrough has been made in the investigations process. Talking to TNS, Administrator Badshahi Mosque, Shams-ul-Haq says that the Auqaf department is making all possible efforts to trace the culprits. He says the Punjab government's reward offer for informer(s) still stands valid and can also be increased if need be. "It's by no means a political stunt. Every year, Auqaf department's budget carries a provision to offer Rs two million to an effective informer," he says.
Shams says that after this incident security was beefed up at the mosque's gallery and round-the-clock vigilance introduced. "There are several close circuit cameras placed at the gallery to safeguard the relics showcased here for public view. We have published brochures for the public and issued a list of 27 holy relics on display at the gallery to ensure that none of them is removed from there," he adds.
Historians say that Ameer Taimur was offered these relics when he occupied Damascus by the start of the 15th century A.D. Later they went in the possession of Zaheer-ud-Din Babar who brought them with him to the Indo-Pak sub-continent. Here they changed different hands before being placed at the Badshahi mosque around 1883.
The name of Pir S. A. Jaffri, Organiser, Jamia'at Mashaikh, Pakistan became popular overnight when he launched a protest drive against the theft of the holy slippers a day after the incident had taken place. In an outburst of anger against the government functionaries, he announced in a public gathering that he would wear black clothes and stay bare-footed till the time the holy slippers were recovered.
"This happened at a seminar arranged by the Punjab Auqaf department at a five-star hotel. I could not help myself when I saw that ministers and officials sitting there had no time to talk about the incident. They were calm and talking about everything under the sun except the slippers' theft," he says while talking to TNS.
"I simply said that if a whole village can be taken hostage by the police to recover a minister's missing dog, why don't those holding high offices die with shame over such a tragic incident." He says the audience and the media personnel present at the event supported him and started raising slogans against the government. "I tore off my new shirt and shunned my shoes and decided never to wear them till the recovery of the holy slippers."
Jaffri says he has stuck to what he had said at that time though his feet have become sore and skin infested with different diseases. "It's no easy task to walk bare-footed on metalled roads and wear black cloth in summer. And that also for years without fail. My feet don't remember the feel of shoes anymore," he says.
Fifth year into his protest, Jaffri seems to be the lone crusader waging a war against those have 'conformed with the situation'. For years he has been holding meetings with police officials, civil bureaucracy and the ruling elite but to no avail.
Based in Garhi Shahu, Lahore, Jaffri is finalising arrangements to hold the fifth anniversary of this tragic incident on July 31, 2007. His one-room secretariat on the first floor of a residential building is often thronged by different people who visit him to assure their support to the 'movement' launched by him.
"I receive invitations from different business associations to address them. Normally, I don't go. But if I do, they sprinkle flower petals on me and give me respect that I had never received in my life earlier," he says.
Jaffri says he has also
been approached by several prospective investors who have offered to finance
his protest drive and expand it to the whole country. "I will weigh the
offers individually and join hands with only those who are sincere with the
cause. I have no liking for those who want to gain political mileage from
Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
The smuggling of precious and artificial sculptures from the world famous Gandhara civilisation has grown into an ominously huge trading racket, and how
By Syed Bukhar Shah
Illegal excavations, the involvement of influential personalities, corruption in government departments and their lack of interest in the protection of national heritage are decidedly the chief reasons why the smuggling of precious as well as artificial sculpture from the world famous Gandhara civilization has grown into an ominously huge trading racket today.
By far the most prominent archaeological sites of NWFP are to be found in District Mardan. They include Takht Bai, Sri Behlol, Jamal Ghari, Shahbaz Ghari, Sangao, and Kara Mar. Sculptures from these areas are lying in almost every important museum of the world. Hundreds of archeological mounds still remain unearthed for lack of funds, in places such as Attock, Swat, Dir, Malakand, Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies. However, smugglers and antiquity dealers reportedly carry out excavations at night time, armed to teeth with lanterns and sophisticated weapons that can always keep the local police at bay.
Part of the blame lies with the methodology of the related government department. Whatever antiquities are seized at the airports or exit points are taken over by the federal department of archaeology and stored in their godowns without informing the frontier government.
An expert on the Buddhist civilization of Gandhara, Professor Fidaullah Sehri told TNS that the Gandhara sculptures had been recovered in the past through illegal, albeit scientific, excavations in Takht Bai, Sri Behlol, Jamal Ghari, Shahbaz Ghari, Hund, Karamar, Sangao and other places.
He exhorted the federal government to hand over all archaeological sites to the NWFP since this was "imperative to curbing the illicit trade as well as preparation of artificial sculptures."
"Inspectors of antiquities from countries such as the UK should be appointed at the tehsil and district levels for keeping close vigil on the entire process," he continued, "They should be posted at all exit points, airports and seaports."
The author of such popular books as The Buddha Story, A Guide to Takht Bai, Hund - the Forgotten City of Gandhara, and A Brief Guide to Peshawar Museum said that initially as archaeological excavations began in NWFP, the sculptures recovered were sent to Lahore Museum, the largest museum of Pakistan. The fasting Buddha displayed in Lahore Museum also comes from Shikray, near Jamal Garhi, in Mardan district.
The provincial minister for Culture and Museums Hussain Ahmad Kanju recently issued a warning letter to the federal government to return the Gandhara sculptures to the province as per the decision of the UNESCO, otherwise he would take the matter to the court of law.
Professor Sehri lamented the fact that the UNESCO directive had not been implemented thus far.
By Noreen Haider
"History to a society and people is like what memory is to a human being. Without it one wanders in life aimlessly..." unknown poet
In 1996 Lahore Fort's Sikh Gallery was broken into and some of the most priceless relics in the collection were stolen. According to the description from the museum's catalogue of 1961, "the horse trappings of Maharaja Ranjit Singh were in several pieces. These were a Sar Band (decorative head covers) comprising 77 small and six medium size flowers in gold plate with eight petals, each of them studded with turquoise, a 'teeka' weighing 10 tolas of gold with 10 pendants of 100t; one 'qalghi' (forehead ornament) and two solid gold buckles. Both the 'teeka' and 'qalghi' were studded with diamonds.
The 'Seena Bund (chest cover)' is 4'-11' long with 35 small and two medium size flowers of plate gold weighing 20 tolas. Each flower has eight petals studded with 14 turquoises and a diamond, a medallion of 10 tolas of gold set with large piece of turquoise and other small beads of stones.
The 'Dum Gaz (tail-piece)' is 5'-6' long with small flowers of gold weighing 32 tolas of gold, two medium size buckles and one big buckle of solid gold weighing two tolas and 10 tolas, respectively, studded with jewels and precious and semi-precious stones."
It is interesting that in the initial FIR the curator stated that 'gold-plated' objects were stolen whereas the horse trappings were actually made of solid gold.
To this day the multi-million-dollar theft remains untraced. Two of the watchmen on duty were arrested initially but later released. The case has long been shelved and all investigation ceased.
On June 29, 2000, a Hamail Sharif (Lahore Museum catalogue number MSS-123), which is a piece of deerskin on which Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) grandson Imam Hussain (RS) wrote Quranic verses, two pages of a Quran from the Mughal era (Lahore Museum catalogue number C-199), a Quran from the Mughal era (Lahore Museum catalogue number MSS-246), a Mughal era translation of the Quran (Lahore Museum catalogue number MSS-34/6) and the Musnavi Shireen Khurd Farsi Musawwar (Lahore Museum catalogue number MSS-878) was stolen from Lahore Fort. A case against the theft was registered with Old Anarkali Police.
Muhammad Naveed, Iranian national Dr Dervish and Afghan national Yaqoob were arrested in connection with the theft. The Hamail Sharif was recovered but the other relics were never found.
On September 4, 2000, a computer cataloguing all museum antiques and other details was stolen and no trace was found of the theft.
On July 31, 2002 Holy slippers said to belong to The Holy Prophet were stolen from the Badshahi mosque.
"When I joined the Archaeology department along with other things I inherited a massive pile of FIRs of the stolen artefacts," said Oriya Maqbool Jan, former Director Archaeology department, Punjab while talking to TNS. "The truth is that theft of arts and artefacts has throughout been a huge problem and the reality is that it is always an inside job." The most persistent theft had been of the manuscripts of books ranging from the rare copies of Quran to other hand written pieces and the most stunning had been the stolen apron of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's horse from Princess Bamba collection. It is amazing that to date out of all the registered FIRs, none of the cases have been found and none of the artefacts ever recovered.
According to the officials of archaeology department all the pieces displayed in the museums were original and authentic. "There is no truth in the rumours that some of the pieces of Gandhara sculpture displayed are replicas or that the original pieces are sold in any black market. There are various reasons for that; firstly it is not possible for anyone to replicate the pieces exactly in the same material, such class of artists is just not available, secondly there are conservation laboratories and carbon testing methods to verify the age and authenticity of any piece. The original pieces can be identified very easily by conservationists and experts. Thirdly it has become extremely difficult to sell any piece in international black market and Interpol has actually returned many stolen artefacts to Pakistan Government in recent years," says Oriya Jan Maqbool. He also said that presently things were much better and the security systems have been updated.
In Punjab, Lahore Museum is the only purpose-built museum and hosts a large treasure of artefacts. The director of the museum Naheed Rizvi replying to questions regarding security arrangements said that the museum had latest and foolproof security arrangements and theft was simply out of question. "We have more than 60 CC TV cameras and round the clock monitoring of the whole museum. The showcases and cupboards are double locked and there is a long and complicated process after which each showcase is opened monthly for cleaning. The whole team of security staff and archeologists is present the day the showcases are opened and it's a very secure procedure. No one person can access any showcase on his own." She concurred though that in the past thefts occurred because of insufficient security arrangement.
Theft of precious artefacts and relics has been a problem for a very long time now. Time and again there have been scandals regarding the emergence of Pakistani artefacts in international black markets. It is a blessing that according to international laws these are now returned to the government. Theft from the museums is mostly an insider's job where the security arrangements are well in place but this is not the case with the protected archeological sites.
In Sindh there are 128 historical sites including tombs, forts, mosques etc. belonging to Arghuns, Tarkhans and Kalhora .Out of these 84 sites are protected under the Department of Archaeology, Government of Pakistan but there are only 50 watchmen to guard them. The preservation list includes 30 sites only at Makli. Most of these sites are reportedly unprotected and not preserved properly owing to the poor quality of conservation, lawlessness and neglect.
In order to protect and preserve the relics and sites there is an Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1975 which is considered quite effective, provided it is administered properly. For its proper administration, the federal department of Archaeology needs adequate staff which it does not have. For instance, the Talpur Committee set up by the Government of Pakistan in 1979, besides other measures, recommended that vigilance at a particular monument/site should be round the clock by turn of eight-hour duty. The factual position is that at many sites, there are no watchmen at all. At places like major site of Makli (in Thatta district), the watch and ward staff is not in its full strength. And the results are obvious.
The real value of the relics and artefacts cannot be calculated in terms of money. These are not only our link with the past but are roots into our culture and civilization. These precious treasures are timeless and each coming generation is merely their custodian.
By Azaz Hussain
The story goes back to the year 2004 when the US customs department nabbed a consignment of 39 Gandhara objects at the New Jersey International Airport. After the preliminary probe, it was found that the precious antiquities were being trafficked illegally from Pakistan and carried fake addresses of people. Later, an investigation was launched to hunt out those involved in the dirty business of 'cultural theft' on either sides. Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) also initiated a probe at its end, to little or no success, since the people available in the documents for 'parcelling' these precious goods were all fake and there was not a clue as to the real characters behind the story.
The US authorities recently returned all the 39 objects to Pakistan that put them in the possession of Archaeology Department.
Figures indicate that the 'business' of the smuggling of antiquities is flourishing in the country, as the traffickers continue to outsmart the cops and make billions in the national and international markets wherever their goods are sold.
According to a ministry of culture presentation given to the parliament standing committee recently, a total of 2075 antiquities were seized from different parts of the world in five different cases, between the years 2004 and 2006. In 2005 alone, some 1400 objects of Gandhara, Indus, and pre-Indus period were seized at the Karachi Airport. The next year, in two major operations made at Lahore and Karachi airports, some 625 Gandhara, Indus and pre-Indus and Islamic-period objects were seized.
The Pakistan government is also negotiating with the French authorities for the return of 17 objects that were detected and later seized in France.
Earlier records show seven cases of Museum thefts in Pakistan, from year 1967 to 2002. In these cases, 401 precious antiquities were stolen from different museums of the country.
According to other details, the first case of antiquities theft was registered with Taxila Police in 1965, whereupon the police recovered 11 objects out of 39. The remaining ones are still not available. These objects were stolen from the Archaeological Museum of Taxila.
In 1971, from the same museum, 71 Gandhara objects were stolen. Though, after the registration of the case with the Taxila Police, only 33 objects could be recovered.
In 1986, 40 precious gold and copper coins were stolen from the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi. Over 20 years later, the police is yet to complete its investigation on the matter.
Perhaps the biggest theft case that came into the limelight happened in 1996 when the traffickers of antiquities made away with some 138 decorative pieces of Ranjit Singh's horse from the Armory Gallery, Lahore Fort Museum.
In 1999, 61 copper and bronze objects were stolen from Taxila Museum. The case is still under police investigation. Likewise, in 1993 and, later, in 2002, 12 bronze statues of the Buddhist period were also stolen from the Archaeological Museum of Karachi and Moenjodaro.
All of the aforementioned museums fall under the control of the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DAM) which was established post-Independence. It happens to be the main custodian of the conservation and protection of monuments, archaeological sites, museums, and antiquities placed in the museums.
"We are also facing some constraints as the Antiquity Act 1975 does not empower the Department of Archaeology and Museums to make on-the-spot arrests. It has to report the matter to the local police," says Salim Gul Sheikh, Federal Culture Secretary, talking to TNS.
"We are doing our best to protect the antiquities of our country. However, this is also the responsibility of the people living in the ancient parts of Pakistan to help us with our task."
The protection of antiquities has emerged as a very important issue in recent past. The traffickers of precious antiquities carry on with their dirty business with the help of the black sheep in the customs and even the police department itself. Until and unless the government takes some serious stock of the situation the heritage of the country stands in peril.
By Shahid Ghani
Pakistan has a lot to offer to tourists, especially the students of archaeology. The whole country, whether it be the plains of Punjab, deserts of Balochistan and Sindh or slopes of our frontier region and northern areas, have been seats of ancient civilisations. Only this unique feature has put Pakistan on the map of archaeologically rich countries in the world.
The remains found at Gandhara in the north, Harappa in Punjab, Mehargarh in Balochistan, Bhambore, Mansura, Shehdad Pur and Moenjodaro in Sindh etc. are a few examples.
The presence of museums in closely located Taxila, Swat, Dir and Peshawar cities shows that one museum alone is not enough to display the archaeological wonders discovered in Gandhara region. It would appear strange but it is a fact that archaeologists have so far identified well above 2,500 old sites in Gandhara region. Discovered objects include statues of Buddha, sculptures of elephants, lions and other animals, water containers, lamps, decoration pieces and others.
Dr Saif-ur-Rehman Dar, Associate Professor, Archaeology Department, Punjab University, when asked to list down archaeological sites began from Balochistan. He said that sites at Mehargarh date back to 7000 B.C. Mehargarh was the oldest site where foreign missions were working but constant turmoil in the province made them leave for good.
"This was the place where civilisations flourished for over 7,000 years at a stretch. Whereas, the Moenjodaro civilisation starts from 2500 BC and ends at 1500 BC. There is no trace before and after this and the known period is of about 1000 years," he said. Highlighting Mehargarh's importance he says it was on the way of invaders coming to this region from Persia, Khurasan or Afghanistan.
According to Dr Dar, Gandhara art has the highest 'face value'. A mere head of a statue can be sold in millions as compared to scores of seals discovered from Moenjodaro or Harappa. Most of the excavation work has been done in Gandhara region "mostly to attract followers of Buddhism and tourists". Other things found here include terracotta, tools, coins and sculptures
Similarly, Moenjodaro in Sindh and Harappa in Punjab are main cities of Indus Valley Civilization. Here one can find engravings, utensils, wheels, seals with figures of humped and short-horned bulls, elephants, wild boars, tigers, rhinoceros etc.
Soon after partition Punjab University found maunds of Sanskrit books and literature lying on its premises. "As nobody could read it this treasure of knowledge was packed in sacks and left to rot. Of late Korea has offered cooperation in initiating a study of these books and has agreed to provide funds as well," said Dr. Dar.
Traces of various ancient civilisations that fall in the Pakistani territory can be divided into different periods like the Indus civilization, the Gandhara civilization and the Islamic Era. Dar says least effort has been done to excavate sites that could yield artefacts related to Islamic era. And most of the work was done in Gandhara region since Pakistan's inception.
From Bhambore (Daibul in Raja Dahir's times), about 40 miles from Karachi, the earliest remains of Islamic culture of Pakistan were recovered. These included copper coins of Umayyad period and specimens of pottery. Swords, pottery, carpets are found in proper shape. He told that he has seen Mughal era carpets as big as 60 to 100 feet in the museums of Jodhpur and Jaipur. "These carpets were woven in Lahore but unfortunately no museum in Pakistan has even one of them," he said.