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Press Release

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Return Of 10Th Century Sandstone Sculpture To The Kingdom Of Cambodia

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the return of the Duryodhana, a 10th Century sandstone sculpture, to the Kingdom of Cambodia. The return of the Duryodhana follows the settlement of a civil forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which alleged that the Duryodhana was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in 1972 by an organized looting network, and ultimately imported into the United States and offered for sale by Sotheby’s Inc. (“Sotheby’s”). The settlement of the civil forfeiture action, which was approved by United States District Judge George B. Daniels on December 16, 2013, required Sotheby’s and the customer selling the Duryodhana, Decia Ruspoli de Poggia Suasa (“Ruspoli”), to return the sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “A priceless piece of Cambodia’s cultural history was stolen over 40 years ago. Once stolen, the Duryodhana should not have been for sale at any price. By bringing legal action to cause the return of the Duryodhana to the Kingdom of Cambodia, we have reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that Manhattan does not become a Mecca for stolen art and antiquities. Everyone who sells, collects, or curates art should support doing what is right when it comes to repatriating priceless stolen artifacts. We are proud to have played a role in removing the Duryodhana from the stream of commerce, and pleased to commemorate its imminent return to its homeland.”

HSI Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes, Jr., said: “HSI is proud to partner with the Southern District of New York to return this statue to the people of Cambodia after a more than 40-year absence. HSI is committed to continuing to be the dominant force in preserving and maintaining the integrity of cultural symbols throughout the world.”

According to an Amended Complaint filed in Manhattan federal court in April 2013, and other documents filed in the case:

From 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. The Khmer regime under Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Chen temple and its statuary. These monuments have never been transferred to any private owner, and remain the property of the Cambodian state.

During the civil conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and entered the international art market through an organized looting network. In the case of monumental statues like the Duryodhana, the heads would sometimes be forcibly detached from the torsos and transported first, with the torsos following later, due to the physical challenges of transporting the large torsos on dirt roads. The statues would then be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border, and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts 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.

The Duryodhana, along with a companion statue, the Bhima, was stolen from Prasat Chen in 1972 via this looting network. The heads of the statues were removed and transported first, followed by the torsos, and ultimately delivered to a Thai dealer based in Bangkok. The Duryodhana and the Bhima were then obtained by a well-known collector of Khmer antiquities (Athe Collector@). The Duryodhana was sold to a Belgian businessman in 1975 and was ultimately transferred to his widow, Ruspoli.

In 2010, Ruspoli consigned the Duryodhana to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s imported it into the United States and offered it for sale in 2011.

Mr. Bharara thanked HSI 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. Bharara also thanked the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and L’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient for their assistance.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorneys Sharon Cohen Levin, Alexander J. Wilson, Sarah E. Paul, and Christine I. Magdo are in charge of the case.

Duryodhana - Cambodian Scupture - Amended Complaint
Duryodhana - Cambodian Sculpture - Settlement Stipulation and Order

Updated May 18, 2015

Press Release Number: 14-134