U.S. will return 30 looted antiquities to Cambodia

STORY: WILLIAMS: “Today I am proud to announce that we are returning 30 ancient works of art to the kingdom of Cambodia.”

U.S. officials announced Monday that the country would return to Cambodia 30 looted antiquities, including bronze and stone statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities carved more than 1,000 years ago.

Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said the antiquities were voluntarily relinquished by U.S. museums and private collectors after the federal prosecutor’s office filed civil forfeiture claims.

“These statues and artifacts, which range in age from the Bronze Age to the twelfth century, are of extraordinary cultural value to the Cambodian people.”

The Southeast Asian country’s archaeological sites suffered widespread looting in civil conflicts between the 1960s and 1990s…

including Koh Ker, a capital of the ancient Khmer empire.

Cambodia's government has since sought to repatriate stolen antiquities sold on the international market.

WILLIAMS: “The Ganesha as well as the beautiful Skanda on a Peacock, which we also have here today, once stood at the archaeological site of Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

Williams said the items being returned were sold to Western buyers by Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer who created fake documents to conceal that the items had been looted and smuggled.

In 2019, U.S. prosecutors charged Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United States, with wire fraud and smuggling over the alleged looting. He died in Thailand in 2020.

Keo Chhea is Cambodia’s ambassador to the U.S.

“Well, it is my great honor and it’s the honor of our peoples, the whole Cambodian people are happy and they are very appreciate that the US government could return the looted culture back, return their soul, their identity back to Cambodia.”

The ambassador told Reuters that the antiquities will be displayed at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.