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US returns looted cultural artifacts to Cambodia

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New York officials have returned 30 cultural artifacts to Cambodia, including a 10th-century Khmer sculptural “masterpiece,” after the items were illegally sold to private collectors and a US museum.

The antiquities, which had been taken from temples and archeological sites during periods of civil conflict in the country, entered the international art market via an “organized looting network,” according to the US Department of Justice.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York hosted a repatriation ceremony for the works, with Cambodia’s ambassador to the US, Keo Chhea, in attendance.

The 10th-century sandstone statue “Skanda on a Peacock” was among 30 items returned to Cambodia. Credit: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

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“These statues and artifacts, which range in age from the bronze age to the 12th century, are of extraordinary cultural value to the Cambodian people and we are delighted to be sending them home today,” said prosecutor Damian Williams during a press conference.

The artifacts include “Skanda on a Peacock,” a 10th-century sandstone sculpture of the Hindu war deity Skanda, which was stolen from the Prasat Krachap temple at Koh Ker, an archeological site, in the 1990s.

Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lee Satterfield, pictured alongside some of the looted artifacts at Monday’s repatriation ceremony. Credit: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

“For years, Douglas Latchford operated an illegitimate enterprise by smuggling looted antiquities into the United States with blatant disregard for US Customs laws,” said Ricky J. Patel, a special agent at Homeland Security Investigations, in a statement in January. “Latchford facilitated this by falsifying customs documentation and providing deceptive paperwork to collectors for sale on the international art market.”

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In 2014, a 10th-century statue linked to Latchford was withdrawn from an auction and returned to Cambodia after investigators concluded it had been illegally removed from a temple during the country’s civil war. Five years later, US prosecutors charged Latchford with wire fraud and smuggling but he died in Thailand in 2020 before answering the charges.

A 10th-century sandstone sculpture pictured ahead of the repatriation ceremony in New York City. Credit: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

At a repatriation ceremony, ambassador Chhea told Reuters that the antiquities will be displayed at the National Museum of Cambodia in the capital city Phnom Penh.

Speaking to reporters at the press conference, he said: “We need to commit and to continue our fight to protect our soul of cultural heritage and prevent the priceless antiquities from being further plundered, looted, and spirited away from the country.”

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“It is a global problem that involves wealthy collectors, private dealers, gallery owners, and even some of the world’s most prestigious places,” he added.

Mansah Makafui
Mansah Makafuihttps://ghanafuo.com/oliviaagbavitor
Editor at Ghanafuo.com! I am Olivia Mansah Makafui. With my interest in being abreast with all the happenings around the world, I resort to writing articles at ghanfuo.com where we keep you updated with the most accurate information, considering entertainment, sports, politics and news in general.

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