US returns 30 stolen antique artworks

Long way from home: A 10th century sandstone sculpture of a Yaksha is prepared ahead of the repatriation and return to Cambodia. — AFP

The United States returned 30 stolen works of art and antiquities to Cambodia that had been looted from the South-East Asian nation, including from an ancient Khmer city, and illegally trafficked around the world for decades.

Manhattan federal prosecutor Damian Williams officially handed over the looted antiquities to Cambodia’s ambassador to the US, Keo Chhea, in front of the press.

“We celebrate the return of Cambodia’s cultural heritage to the Cambodian people, and reaffirm our commitment to reducing the illicit trafficking of art and antiquities,” Williams said.

Among the 30 works was a 10th-century sculpture of the Hindu deity Skanda, seated on a peacock, as well as a 10th-century sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha. Both were stolen from Koh Ker, the ancient Khmer capital located 80km from the renowned temples of Angkor, Williams’ office said in a statement on Monday.

The antiquities, which range from the Bronze Age to the 12th century, had been stolen along with thousands of others during the wars in Cambodia in the 1970s and when the country reopened in the 1990s.

The federal prosecutor’s office said that thousands of Khmer statues and sculptures were trafficked out of Cambodia over the course of decades to antique dealers in Bangkok, before being illegally exported to collectors, businessmen and even museums in Asia, Europe and the United States.

One of the dealers, American Douglas Latchford, was charged in 2019 with art trafficking, but the case was tabled after his death.

From the summer of 2020 to the end of 2021, at least 700 pieces have been returned to 14 different countries, including Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Greece and Italy. — AFP

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