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Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Erin Keegan, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the return of 13 Khmer antiquities to the Kingdom of Cambodia, pursuant to an agreement between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the “Met”). The Met has voluntarily agreed to return the antiquities, and they are in the process of being turned over.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “All of the pieces being returned today were tied directly to illicit trafficking, and specifically to a man named Douglas Latchford – a collector and dealer that my Office charged in 2019 for running a vast antiquities trafficking network out of Southeast Asia. I want to thank the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where these pieces were previously housed, for their decision to cooperate and work with my Office to facilitate the return of these pieces to the Kingdom of Cambodia. We look forward to our continued dialogue with the Met on these important issues. My Office will continue to vigorously investigate the illegal trade in stolen antiquities. We urge those in this space, including cultural institutions, to be vigilant. And if you work at one of these institutions or for a private collection and have concerns that certain pieces may be tied to illicit trafficking, do the right thing: come forward and work with us on a voluntary basis to facilitate the return to the rightful owners. That is a far better outcome for you and your institution than if our investigation leads to a knock on your door. In other words, come see us before we come see you.”
HSI Acting Special Agent in Charge Erin Keegan said: “As demonstrated with today's announcement, pieces linked to the investigation of Douglas Latchford continue to reveal themselves. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has not only recognized the significance of these 13 Khmer artifacts, which were shamelessly stolen, but has also volunteered to return them, as part of their ongoing cooperation, to their rightful owners: the People of Cambodia. I want to thank HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Art, and Antiquities unit and the Southern District of New York for their unwavering commitment to reuniting nations with these unforgettable pieces of history.”
All of the antiquities being returned to the Kingdom of Cambodia are linked to the art dealer and collector Douglas Latchford, who was previously indicted in the Southern District of New York in 2019 for orchestrating a multi-year scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market. The Indictment was later dismissed due to Latchford’s death. Since 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, in partnership with HSI, has successfully investigated, identified, and repatriated dozens of stolen and illegally imported Cambodian antiquities in the possession of individuals and institutions in the United States.
Among the statutes being returned to the Kingdom of Cambodia are statutes from the Koh Ker archaeological site, including a 10th century goddess sandstone statute, as depicted below. The history of Koh Ker and the illicit trafficking in Cambodian cultural patrimony is described in prior forfeiture actions filed in the Southern District of New York, including United States v. A Late 12th Century Khmer Sandstone Sculpture Depicting Standing Prajnaparamita, et al., 21 Civ. 9217; United States v. A Late 12th Century Bayon-Style Sandstone Sculpture Depicting Eight-Armed Avalokiteshvara, 22 Civ. 229; United States v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture, 12 Civ. 2600; and United States v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture Depicting Skanda on a Peacock, 21 Civ. 6065. In September 2023, Koh Ker — the 10th Century former royal capital of the Angkorian empire — was officially added to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List. Other statutes being returned date from as far back as the 7th Century, including an over-life-size head of Buddha.
10th century goddess sandstone statue from Koh Ker
7th century Head of Buddha
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Mr. Williams thanked HSI for its outstanding work to facilitate the repatriation 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 partnership and assistance.
This matter is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant U. S. Attorney Shiva Logarajah is in charge of the case.