US to return looted ancient statues to Cambodia

US to return looted ancient statues to Cambodia

The United States will return 30 looted antiquities to Cambodia, including bronze and stone statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities carved more than 1,000 years ago.

The country's archaeological sites - including Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer empire - suffered widespread looting in civil conflicts between the 1960s and 1990s.

Cambodia's government has tried to have antiquities returned.

Damian Williams, the top US federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said the items being returned were sold to Western buyers by Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok dealer who created fake documents to conceal looting and smuggling.

The antiquities, including a 10th-century sandstone statue depicting the Hindu god of war, Skanda riding on a peacock, were voluntarily relinquished by US museums and private collectors.

The statues and artefacts are of extraordinary cultural value to the Cambodian people, he said.

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

The antiquities will be displayed in the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's US ambassador Keo Chhea told Reuters.

In 2014, US federal prosecutors returned the Duryodhana, a looted 10th-century sandstone sculpture, to Cambodia after settling with the Sotheby's auction house.

In 2021, the Manhattan district attorney's office returned 27 looted antiquities to Cambodia.