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Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the filing of a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of a 10th Century Khmer sandstone statue – Skanda on a Peacock – for the purpose of returning it to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The statue was stolen from the Prasat Krachap temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia, and sold by antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford into the international art market. Skanda on a Peacock is considered to be a masterpiece of artistic achievement and a valuable part of the Cambodian cultural heritage. The owner of Skanda on a Peacock has voluntarily relinquished possession of the statue to the custody of HSI.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Skanda on a Peacock is a work of great historical, religious, and artistic significance to the people of Cambodia. With this action, we reaffirm our commitment to ending the sale of illegally trafficked antiquities in the United States, and begin the process of returning Skanda on a Peacock to its rightful home.”
According to the Complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court on July 15, 2021:
From 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. The Cambodian state under King Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Krachap temple and its statuary. Koh Ker statuary was revolutionary for its time. Many of the statues, including Skanda on a Peacock, were huge, often shown in movement, and were free-standing or in high-relief. Skanda on a Peacock depicts the Hindu god of war, Skanda, riding on the back of a peacock. The body and tail of the peacock are decorated with intricate engraved patterns. Khmer cultural experts believe that the face of the Skanda on the statue may in fact be a portrait of a royal family member, such as Harshavarman II, the son of King Jayavarman IV.
During the civil conflicts of late 20th century, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and entered the international art market through an organized looting network. Local teams of looters would first remove the statues from the original location at Koh Ker. 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.
Skanda on a Peacock, along with several other significant statues, was stolen from Prasat Krachap in or about 1997 by a former member of the Khmer Rouge leading a team of looters (“Looter-1”). Looter-1 transported Skanda on a Peacock by oxcart to the house of a broker near the Thai border. Looter-1 was aware that the broker sold antiquities to a foreign national called “Sia” (which means “lord” in Thai) “Ford” – the British/Thai antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak.” In 2019, Latchford was charged by the 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.
On or about April 10, 2000, Latchford sold Skanda on a Peacock and, thereafter, it was imported into the United States. After the most recent owner was contacted by the United States regarding Skanda on a Peacock, the owner agreed to relinquish possession of the statue and to waive all claims of right, title, and interest in it. Skanda on a Peacock is currently in the possession of the United States Department of Homeland Security.
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Ms. Strauss thanked HSI for its outstanding work on this investigation, which she noted is ongoing, and praised its ongoing efforts to find and repatriate stolen and looted cultural property. Ms. Strauss also thanked the Kingdom of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts for its assistance with this investigation.
This announcement supports the Memorandum of Understanding first signed between the U.S. and Cambodia in 2003, and last renewed in 2018.
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.
The allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations.
Nicholas Biase, James Margolin