US Returns 30 Ancient Artifacts, Stolen in the Late 20th Century, to Cambodia

US Returns 30 Ancient Artifacts, Stolen in the Late 20th Century, to Cambodia
Buddhist monks stroll through the ancient Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province in Cambodia on July 16, 2010. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo)
Aldgra Fredly

The United States returned 30 stolen artifacts to Cambodia on Monday after more than five years of investigation into "an organized looting network" that reportedly sold the pieces to international buyers.

Ricky J. Patel, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's investigative unit, said the artifacts were stolen from Cambodian temples and palaces and smuggled across borders.

"These artifacts belong to the people of Cambodia, and we are proud to participate in their recovery and their return home," Patel said in a statement.

Among the antiques returned to Cambodia were a 10th century sculpture of Hindu deity Skanda atop a peacock and a 10th century sculpture of Hindu god Ganesha, both of which were stolen from the ancient Khmer capital of Koh Ker.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, antiquities were looted from Koh Ker and other archeological sites during the late 20th century during the war in Cambodia and sold on the international art market through an organized looting network.

"Local teams of looters would first remove the statues from the original sites. The statues would then be transported to the Cambodia–Thailand border and transferred to brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers in Khmer artifacts located in Thailand," the department stated.

“These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market,” the department added.

Douglas Latchford, a Bangkok-based antiquities dealer, was accused of selling the looted artifacts in Western art markets to two private collectors and an American museum.

Latchford was charged in 2019 with wire fraud conspiracy and other crimes related to art trafficking, but the indictment was ultimately dismissed after his death. He died at the age of 89 in 2020.

The United States has repatriated more than 15,000 artifacts to over 40 countries and institutions since 2007, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 2021 alone, U.S. officials returned 27 antiquities worth about $3.8 million to Cambodia.

Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, mainly covering Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.