Looted Cambodian Antiquities In Denver Museum Are Subject Of Forfeiture Action Filed In Manhattan Federal Court
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the filing of a civil complaint today seeking forfeiture of four looted Cambodian antiquities at a museum in Denver, Colorado, for the purpose of returning the antiquities to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The antiquities, which include a 12th to 13th century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Prajnaparamita, and a 7th to 8th century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting Surya, were sold to the museum by antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford through the use of false provenance documents. The museum has voluntarily relinquished possession of the antiquities.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Douglas Latchford papered over the problematic provenance of Cambodian antiquities with falsehoods, in the process successfully placing stolen goods in the permanent collection of an American museum. Eradicating the illegal trade in stolen antiquities requires the vigilance of all parties in the art market, especially cultural institutions.”
According to the civil complaint filed in Manhattan federal court today:
The United States of America seeks the forfeiture of the following antiquities, currently in the possession of a museum located in Denver, Colorado (the “Museum”): (1) a 12th to 13th century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting standing Prajnaparamita (“Prajnaparamita”), (2) a 7th to 8th century Khmer sandstone sculpture depicting standing Surya (“Surya”), (3) an Iron Age Dong Son bronze bell (the “Bell”), and (4) a 17th to 18th century sandstone lintel depicting the sleep of Vishnu and birth of Brahma (the “Lintel”). Together, the Prajnaparamita, Surya, Bell, and Lintel are the “Defendants in Rem.”
Investigators working for the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the United States Government have interviewed a Cambodian national who was previously engaged in the theft and looting of antiquities from Cambodian temples and archeological sites (“Looter-1”). Looter-1, a former member of the Khmer Rouge, led a group of approximately 450 people working in multiple teams to loot temples and archeological sites in Cambodia. Looter-1 has reviewed photographs of the Prajnaparamita, Surya, Bell, and Lintel, and recognized them as antiquities that Looter-1 and his team had stolen from archeological and religious sites in Cambodia.
The Museum acquired the Prajnaparamita, Surya, Bell, and Lintel from Douglas Latchford, a prominent collector and dealer in Southeast Asian art and antiquities who was previously indicted in this District with crimes related to a many-year scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on 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 antiquities 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, assisted Latchford on many occasions by verifying or vouching for the proffered provenance of Khmer antiquities that Latchford was trying to sell.
Latchford lied repeatedly to the Museum, in particular with regard to the provenance of the Prajnaparamita and Surya. Latchford provided false provenance for the Prajnaparamita and Surya, and made multiple misrepresentations and contradictory statements regarding when certain of the Defendants in Rem were shipped and imported into the United States. For example, Latchford told the Museum that he had purchased the Prajnaparamita from a particular art collector (the “False Collector”) in June 1999, who had in turn acquired the Prajnaparamita in Vietnam between 1964 and 1966. Other documents indicate that Latchford shipped the Prajnaparamita from Thailand to London in 1994, well before the June 1999 date, and that it entered the United States in May 2000, after the enactment of an embargo on the importation of Khmer stone antiquities.
The Museum has voluntarily agreed to relinquish possession of the Defendants in Rem to the United States in order for them to be repatriated to the Kingdom of Cambodia, and waived all claims of right, title, and interest in the Defendants in Rem.
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Mr. Williams thanked Homeland Security Investigations for its outstanding work on this investigation, which he noted is ongoing, and praised its ongoing efforts to find and repatriate stolen and looted cultural property. 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 Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein is in charge of the case.