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Stolen artifacts sold to US collectors will be repatriated to Cambodia, officials say

Aaron Katersky

(NEW YORK) — Cambodian artifacts will return to their home country after being smuggled and sold to U.S. collectors and institutions.

The 10th Century Khmer sandstone statue “Skanda on a Peacock” was among the Cambodian antiquities looted from Angkor Wat, Koh Ker and other archeological sites during Cambodia’s periods of civil war and civil unrest that stretched from the 1960s to the 1990s.

“Skanda on a Peacock” is largely viewed as a masterpiece of artistic achievement and an important part of the Cambodian cultural heritage, according to experts.

On Monday, authorities announced “Skanda on a Peacock” and 30 other items will be repatriated to Cambodia after they were seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and the New York field office of the Department of Homeland Security.

The ancient works of art, more than 1000 years old, were “ripped from their country,” said Ricky Patel, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, adding that the works were treated like ordinary commodities rather than the treasures they are.

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All the pieces were sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for his lengthy involvement in illegal trafficking of looted Cambodian antiquities.

Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, was charged with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges. The indictment was dismissed after he died on Aug. 2, 2020, in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Latchford trafficked in works that are culturally valuable to the Cambodian people and he said the U.S. was “delighted” to return them.

“It’s like a return of the souls of our culture,” Keo Chhea, Cambodian ambassador to the U.S, said in a statement.

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