Cambodian Antiquities Looted From Denver Museum Subject To Confiscation Action In Federal Court In Manhattan | USAO-SDNY
Damian Williams, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, today announced the filing of a civil lawsuit seeking the confiscation of four Cambodian antiques looted from a museum in Denver, Colo., In an attempt to return the antiques in the Kingdom of Cambodia. . Antiques, which include a 12e to 13e century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Prajnaparamita, and a 7e at 8e Century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Surya, were sold to the museum by antique dealer Douglas Latchford through the use of false provenance documents. The museum has voluntarily given up possession of the antiques.
US Attorney Damian Williams said: âAs alleged, Douglas Latchford covered up the problematic provenance of Cambodian antiques with lies, successfully placing stolen goods in the permanent collection of an American museum. Eradicating the illegal trade in stolen antiquities requires the vigilance of all actors in the art market, especially cultural institutions.
According to the civil lawsuit filed today in Manhattan Federal Court:
The United States of America seeks the confiscation of the following antiquities, currently in the possession of a museum located in Denver, Colorado (the âMuseumâ): (1) a 12e to 13e century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting standing Prajnaparamita (“Prajnaparamita”), (2) a 7e at 8e century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Surya standing (“Surya”), (3) a bronze bell from the Dong Son Iron Age (the “bell”), and (4) a 17e at 18 years olde Century sandstone lintel depicting the sleep of Vishnu and the birth of Brahma (the “Lintel”). Together, the Prajnaparamita, Surya, Bell and Lintel are the âaccused in Remâ.
Investigators working for the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the United States government interviewed a Cambodian national who was previously involved in the theft and looting of antiques from Cambodian temples and archaeological sites (” Pillager-1 â). Looter-1, a former member of the Khmer Rouge, led a group of around 450 people working in multiple teams to loot temples and archaeological sites in Cambodia. Looter-1 examined photographs of Prajnaparamita, Surya, Bell and Lintel, and recognized them as antiques that Looter-1 and his team had stolen from archaeological and religious sites in Cambodia.
The museum acquired the Prajnaparamita, Surya, bell and lintel from Douglas Latchford, a prominent Southeast Asian art and antiques collector and dealer who had previously been indicted in the district for crimes related to a multi-year program to sell looted Cambodian antiques to the international art market. As alleged in the indictment, United States v. Latchford, 19 Cr. 748 (AT), as part of the scheme, Latchford created false provenance documents and false invoices and shipping documents for the antiques he was selling. In September 2020, the indictment against Latchford was dismissed due to his death. Latchford was closely associated with a particular scholar of Khmer art (the “scholar”). Over the years, the scholar, who was a volunteer research consultant for the museum, helped Latchford on several occasions by verifying or vouching for the provenance of the Khmer antiques Latchford was trying to sell.
Latchford has repeatedly lied to the museum, especially regarding the provenance of the Prajnaparamita and the Surya. Latchford provided a false provenance for the Prajnaparamita and the Surya, and made multiple false and conflicting statements regarding when some of Rem’s accused were shipped and imported into the United States. For example, Latchford told the museum that he purchased the Prajnaparamita from a particular art collector (the âfalse collectorâ) in June 1999, who in turn acquired the Prajnaparamita in Vietnam between 1964 and 1966. D ‘ Other documents indicate that Latchford shipped the Prajnaparamita from Thailand to London in 1994, well before June 1999, and that it entered the United States in May 2000, following the promulgation of an embargo on the importation of Khmer stone antiques.
The Museum has voluntarily agreed to cede possession of the Defendants in Rem to the United States for repatriation to the Kingdom of Cambodia, and has waived all claims of right, title and interest on the Defendants in Rem.
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Mr Williams thanked Homeland Security Investigations for their outstanding work in this investigation, which he said is ongoing, and praised his continued efforts to locate and repatriate stolen and looted cultural property. Mr. Williams also thanked the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia for their assistance in this investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant to the US prosecutor Jessica Feinstein is in charge of the case.