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US Returns 33 Stolen Khmer Statues to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts issued a press release on the return of 33 ancient Khmer statues from the collection of the late oil and gas tycoon, George Lindemann in the United States.

The returned statues include a reclining Vishnu and a half male/half female iteration of the Hindu god Shiva, believed to be from Prasat Krachap temple at the ancient royal city of Koh Ker. According to several witnesses, these statues were illegally removed in the 1990s. This is the same temple where the Shiva and Skanda and Skanda on the Peacock came from, which were returned from the collection of the late disgraced art smuggler Douglas Latchford earlier this year. In fact, a review of files on Latchford’s computer showed correspondence between him and Lindemann, including photos of them meeting in Cambodia in the 1990s.

A statement from the Department of Culture and Fine Arts thanked the combined efforts of the NYC District Attorney’s Office and the Homeland Security Bureau, who reached an agreement with the Lindemann family members that inherited George’s stolen artifacts.

Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeung Sackona said, “It pleases the Cambodian government that the Lindemann family, in possession of these national treasures, knowing they were wrongfully possessed, have duly and voluntarily returned them to their rightful owners.”

She emphasized that the return set a good example for museums and other private collectors that are holding on to Cambodia’s cultural heritage, even after being notified of their dubious origins. The Cambodian government has requested New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to return at least 45 Khmer relics from its collection. However the museum is demanding proof that the items were looted-a tall order for a country whose genocidal period is largely undocumented. At least four of the museum’s Khmer items were in fact donated by the Lindemanns in the 1990’s.

The Minister of Fine Arts is thrilled that these masterpieces have been returned after more than three years of cooperation between the two governments. A Memorandum of Understanding was renewed just last month to facilitate the return of Cambodia’s cultural heritage from private and public institutions in the United States.

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