U.S. Attorney Announces Return Of 30 Looted Antiquities To Kingdom Of Cambodia | USAO-SDNY

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Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) in New York, announced today the return to the Kingdom of Cambodia of 30 antiquities which were stolen from Cambodia as part of an organized looting network and sold by antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford.  Among the antiquities returned today was a 10th Century sculpture of Skanda on a Peacock and a monumental 10th Century sculpture of Ganesha, both looted from the ancient Khmer capital Koh Ker. Cambodian Ambassador to the United States Keo Chhea received the antiquities today during a ceremony at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said:  “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.  It is with great pleasure that we send the Skanda on a Peacock and the rest of these artworks on the final leg of their journey home.”

HSI Acting Special-Agent-in-Charge Ricky J. Patel said:  “These antiquities we return today were ripped from their country. Beyond their extraordinary beauty and craftsmanship, many are sacred artifacts pried from temples and palaces to be smuggled across borders and peddled by those seeking profit, without any regard to the intangible value they have to the people of their homeland.  For over five years, the agents and experts in HSI New York’s specialized dedicated Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, alongside our government partners, hunted down leads, examined origin, reviewed financial records, and conducted dozens of interviews to find and recover these pieces we are returning today.  These artifacts belong to the people of Cambodia, and we are proud to participate in their recovery and their return home.”

The 30 antiquities returned to Cambodia today were the subjects of three civil forfeiture actions filed in this District. According to the civil forfeiture complaints filed in 2021 and 2022, and other documents filed in the cases:

The antiquities repatriated to Cambodia are sandstone and bronze sculptures and artifacts, ranging in age from the Bronze Age to the 12th Century, which were either removed illegally from Cambodia by looters, imported into the United States based on false statements to United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), or both.

During the civil conflicts of late 20th century, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and other archeological sites in Cambodia and entered the international art market through an organized looting network.  Local teams of looters would first remove the statues from the original sites. The statues would then be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border, and transferred to brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers in Khmer artifacts located in Thailand, particularly Bangkok.  These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market.

Bangkok-based antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak” sold the antiquities to individuals in the Western art market, including the two private collectors and an American museum which were the prior owners of the pieces returned today. In 2019, Latchford was charged by this Office with wire fraud conspiracy and other crimes related to a many-year scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, primarily by creating false provenance documents and falsifying invoices and shipping documents. The indictment was ultimately dismissed due to the death of Latchford.

Once the prior owners were contacted by the United States, they agreed to relinquish possession of the antiquities and to waive all claims of right, title, and interest in them.

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Mr. Williams thanked Homeland Security Investigations for its outstanding work on this investigation, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for its invaluable assistance. Mr. Williams also thanked the Kingdom of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for its assistance with this investigation.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and International Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein is in charge of the case.



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