US repatriates looted Cambodian Bronze Age antiquities


The United States is returning 30 “looted antiquities” to Cambodia, including Buddhist and Hindu religious statues and ancient artifacts, officials said in New York.

In a repatriation ceremony Monday, New York Southern District Attorney Damian Williams and Acting Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations Ricky J. Patel presented the intricate artifacts to the Cambodian Ambassador to the United States. United States, Keo Chhea. He said they would be “cherished” and returned to the Southeast Asian nation they were stolen from.

The objects include artifacts from the Bronze Age through the 12th century, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Notable pieces repatriated include a 10th-century sandstone sculpture of the Hindu god of war Skanda riding a peacock and a monumental sculpture of Ganesha – a central Hindu and Buddhist deity, both looted from the former Khmer capital, Koh Ker.

“Today we celebrate the return of Cambodia’s cultural heritage to the Cambodian people and reaffirm our commitment to reducing the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities,” Williams said.

The New York prosecutor’s office said the artifacts were “stolen from Cambodia as part of an organized looting ring” and many were sold by antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford to collectors and museums in the United States.

Also known as “Pakpong Kriangsak,” Latchford was a Bangkok-based dealer charged in 2019 with conspiracy to wire fraud and other crimes related to schemes to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international market. art. The New York District Attorney’s Office said much of this was done by creating false provenance documents and falsifying invoices. Latchford died in 2020 and the indictment was dismissed.

The Cambodian ambassador said the looting of priceless antiquities remains “a global problem”, which is much deeper than a man and can involve “some of the most prestigious places in the world”.

“We look forward to welcoming our precious cultural heritage home,” he said, comparing it to “the souls of our culture returning to our people.”

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He thanked the United States for its “noble assistance” and urged art dealers and collectors to be more thorough in verifying the provenance of international objects.

“Each piece has a meaningful connection to our people, our culture and our history,” he added. “We hope the world will now appreciate not only the beauty of these antiquities, but also their spiritual significance and cultural significance to the Cambodian people.”

According to Reuters, the items will be on display at the National Museum of Cambodia in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Civil conflicts in Cambodia between the 1960s and 1990s saw statues and other artefacts looted from Koh Ker and other archaeological sites. They were then sold on the international art market through organized networks. The items were usually smuggled across the Cambodia-Thailand border and transferred to brokers, who transferred them to Khmer artifact dealers in Bangkok for resale.

“These antiques that we are returning today were snatched from their country,” Patel said. “Beyond their extraordinary beauty and craftsmanship, many are sacred artifacts extracted from temples and palaces to be smuggled across borders and peddled by those who seek profit, without any regard for value. intangible they have for the people of their homeland.”

US museums attempt to return hundreds of treasures looted from Benin

In Britain, 72 artifacts “forcibly removed” by British soldiers in 1897 will be returned to the Nigerian government, the Horniman Museum in London announced earlier this week. Among them are 12 famous bronzes from Benin, some of Africa’s most culturally significant artifacts.

Similar repatriations of works of art have been carried out in Germany and France, as Western countries grapple with the vestiges of colonialism and illegal displacement.

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