Stolen Ancient Jewels Returned to Cambodia

CrimeFeb 23, 2023

Stolen Ancient Jewels Returned to Cambodia

The 77-piece jewelry collection dates back to the Angkor kingdom that ruled Cambodia from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

A collection of ancient jewelry, including these crowns, was returned to Cambodia after being retrieved from the estate of British antiquities collector and dealer Douglas Latchford, who was accused of trafficking stolen and looted Cambodian antiques. (Image courtesy of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia—A collection of ancient jewelry stolen from Cambodia has been returned, Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts announced Monday.

The age-old jewels, dating back to the Angkor kingdom that ruled Cambodia from the 9th to 15th centuries, included crowns, necklaces, bracelets, belts, earrings and amulets made of gold and other metals.

Many of these objects have never before been seen by the public, said the ministry.

“The repatriation of these national treasures opens a new era of understanding and scholarship about the Angkorian empire and its significance to the world,” Dr. Phoeurng Sackona, minister of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said in a statement.

The jewels were the latest goods retrieved from the estate of British antiquities collector and dealer Douglas Latchford.

An expert in Cambodian and Indian antiques, Latchford supplied auction houses, art dealers, and museums around the world with Cambodian antiquities from the ancient Khmer Empire, starting in the 1970s, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In November 2019, U.S. federal prosecutors charged Latchford with wire fraud, smuggling, and conspiracy related to the alleged trafficking of stolen and looted Cambodian antiques.

Latchford is accused of creating fake documents to hide the objects’ illicit origins, including provenance information, invoices, and shipping papers.

A number of the items were stolen from Cambodia during periods of turmoil and unrest, like during the 1970s under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

He died in August 2020 at the age of 88, and so the indictment against him was later dismissed.

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Documents leaked as part of the Pandora Papers revealed how Latchford allegedly used offshore trusts to obscure information about his antiquities.

Following his death, Latchford’s daughter, Nawapan Kriangsak, who had inherited his collection, stated she would return all of his Cambodian artifacts to the country’s national museum in Phnom Penh.

“Over the last few years, I became increasingly convinced that the best way to deal with this legacy would be to give all his Khmer art, irrespective of origin, to the people of Cambodia,” she said in a statement to CNN.

The monetary value of Latchford’s collection is estimated to be around $50 million, according to The New York Times.

These jewels and golden bowl were among the looted items returned to Cambodia. (Image courtesy of Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts)

In August 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced the return of 30 looted antiquities to Cambodia, including two 10th century sculptures taken from the ancient Khmer capital Koh Ker. 

The recent return of this jewelry collection was a group effort, spearheaded by Cambodian lawmaker Hun Many, who is also the youngest son of the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Se.

He worked with the team at his country’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and U.S-based legal advisers Bradley J. Gordon and Steven Heimberg.

The handover of the goods took place Feb. 17 in the presence of several contributors to the effort, including Hun Many and U.K. representatives from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Art and Antiques Unit of London’s Metropolitan Police, and the Arts Council England.

Cultural minister Sackona encouraged private individuals, museums, and other institutions who own Cambodian cultural heritage objects to return them to their home country.

“We consider such returns as a noble act, which not only demonstrates important contributions to a nation’s culture, but also contributes to the reconciliation and healing of Cambodians who went through decades of civil war and suffered tremendously from the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” she said.

“The ministry will continue to search for and bring home its national treasures back to Cambodia for the benefit of the Cambodian people and the world.”

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