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28 Cambodian Cultural Artifacts to Be Returned to Cambodia From Private Collector

PHNOM PENH: A collection of Cambodian cultural artifacts are set to return to Cambodia from a private collector in the United States. The repatriation of these invaluable artifacts comes through the cooperative efforts of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the US Government, as well as the cooperation of the private collector’s estate.

A press release issued by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said that the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and Homeland Security Investigations filed a civil forfeiture action for 28 Cambodian cultural artifacts and seized the sculptures from the late private collector and dealer, Douglas Latchford.

Among the artifacts is a large sculpture of Ganesha that is believed to have been taken from Prasat Bak Temple at Koh Ker, where witnesses report this statue was removed from about 2 decades ago. This particular statue was listed by the Antiquities Coalition in 2020 as one of the top 10 most wanted looted statues in the world.

The Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Phoeurng Sackona, has stated, “This sculpture of Ganesha is another astonishing example of the brilliance of our ancestors. Ganesha, the Hindu god with an elephant's head, is widely known for its wisdom and power to overcome obstacles and its return home will be a momentous occasion for Cambodia. Other artifacts include a sandstone Buddha sculpture from 7th-8th century, a 10th century Hindu god Vishnu, and a 10th century bronze image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.”

She continued that the ministry was thrilled that the private collector agreed to cooperate with US authorities and return a large collection of statues, and further stated, “We encourage other private collectors and museums to follow this private collector's decision and to contact us now to discuss repatriation to the rightful owner.”

The Minister expressed her gratitude to Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying “I would like to express my utmost gratitude to our Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen for his wise leadership and the win-win policy that has brought peace to Cambodia, opening the possibility for the return of the souls of Khmer ancestors who departed from their motherland during the war and conflict.”

She also thanked the US Attorney's Office, Homeland Security Investigations and all relevant authorities involved both abroad and in Cambodia, including the US Embassy in Cambodia and the Ministry of Culture’s own team of archaeologists and researchers, for all their efforts in the return of these artifacts. She particularly extended a special thanks to Bradley J. Gordon of Edenbridge Asia, and Steven Heimberg of Heimberg Barr LLP, who have both spent many years working with the Ministry of Culture to help negotiate and facilitate the return of stolen Cambodian cultural artifacts.

“We are proud of our joint efforts and cooperation between the governments of our two countries and their impact on restoring to our country important masterpieces of our cultural heritage for the benefit of all humanity and particularly Cambodia's younger generation. I applaud the decision of this private collector to return our priceless treasures to their homeland,” she concluded.

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