Antiquities Expert Charged With Trafficking in Cambodian Artifacts

Antiquities Expert Charged With Trafficking in Cambodian Artifacts

Investigators have billed Douglas A. J. Latchford, a foremost qualified on Khmer antiquities, with smuggling looted Cambodian relics and assisting to promote them on the global artwork current market by concealing their tainted histories with falsified documentation.

In a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Mr. Latchford, 88, was accused of obtaining served for decades as a “conduit” for Cambodian antiquities that experienced been excavated illegally from historic jungle temples for the duration of unrest in the place commencing in the mid-1960s, with the beginnings of the Cambodian civil war.

According to a information release from the United States Attorney’s Business for the Southern District of New York, Mr. Latchford, a twin citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, falsified invoices and shipping and delivery paperwork to make it less difficult to market all those looted artifacts to major auction houses, sellers and museums.

The prosecutors introduced in its courtroom papers a sordid and different standpoint on Mr. Latchford, who experienced been hailed in Cambodia as a protector of the country’s relics, acquiring donated rare artifacts and cash to the national museum in Phnom Penh. In 2008, he was honored with the country’s equivalent of a knighthood. He is also the co-author of a few textbooks — “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold” and “Khmer Bronzes” — that are foundational reference functions for gurus.

The United States authorities officials depicted him as a substitute as a important participant in a transnational felony community working in cultural home who commenced providing Western establishments and private collectors with looted antiquities as long in the past as the 1970s.

Mr. Latchford could not be achieved for comment Wednesday. An aide who answered his cell phone in Thailand reported Mr. Latchford is in sick well being and has been hospitalized in Bangkok for many months.

The indictment rates Mr. Latchford with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and smuggling, among other fees, the most really serious of which every have a utmost sentence of 20 decades in jail. A spokesman for the United States attorney’s business office, Nicholas Biase, declined to comment on no matter if an extradition ask for for Mr. Latchford would be produced.

They in-depth in their news launch his involvement with significant-profile instances such as that of a important antiquity that was withdrawn from an auction at Sotheby’s in 2011 when a Cambodian formal complained that the item experienced been looted. The artifact, a 500-pound, 10th-century sandstone statue of a mythic warrior, acknowledged as Duryodhana, is considered to have been looted from a temple in a Cambodian jungle. Prosecutors explained that Mr. Latchford exported the stone figure from Cambodia in 1972, but when Sotheby’s was trying to find to confirm the provenance of the artifact, Mr. Latchford instructed the auction dwelling that he experienced the statue in London in 1970 — then altered his story to declare that he experienced never owned it at all.

Sotheby’s and its consignor agreed to return the Duryodhana to Cambodia soon after a courtroom battle in which the United States government sided with Cambodia.

In 2013, the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork also agreed to return two statues from the very same web page soon after Cambodian officers introduced evidence that they had been smuggled out of the state throughout the tumult of civil war in the 1970s. The statues experienced arrived at the museum in 4 separate items — two heads and two torsos — in a sequence of items in between 1987 and 1992. Mr. Latchford was the donor or component-donor for 3 of them.

For years Mr. Latchford has been a character at the margins of the government’s investigation of looting in Southeast Asia. In 2016, he was pointed out in a federal prison criticism as an unindicted co-conspirator who had served a distinguished New York gallery operator falsify documents related with Cambodian artifacts so that they would be a lot easier to provide on the international art sector. But this is the 1st time that he has been formally charged.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States lawyer in Manhattan, reported Mr. Latchford had “built a profession out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, typically straight from archaeological sites.”

Tess Davis, an pro on Cambodian antiquities regulation, claimed “the identify Douglas Latchford casts a prolonged shadow” about the destiny of Khmer treasures that have been smuggled and offered abroad because the Vietnam War era.

“As we are looking at now in Iraq and Syria, a generation back in Cambodia, brutal civil war led to the wholesale plunder of a good historic civilization,” Ms. Davis reported.

Prosecutors describe Mr. Latchford as acquiring supplied invoices that misrepresented pinpointing aspects of artifacts, these as age or nation of origin, to United States Customs and Border Defense in order to conceal the fact that they have been looted.

“Frequently, Mr. Latchford shown the ‘country of origin’ as ‘Great Britain’ or ‘Laos,’ somewhat than Cambodia,” the information release mentioned, “and typically explained the objects as ‘figures’ from the 17th or 18th century” alternatively than relationship to the Khmer Empire, which finished in the 15th century.

He is also accused of directing other people to build bogus provenance documents for him.

In earlier interviews, Mr. Latchford has denied any wrongdoing, defending his accumulating practices as the norm at a time when there were being decrease requirements for provenance and product sales documents involved with cultural treasures. In 2012, when the United States authorities experienced tied him to the transportation of the Duryodhana, he stated that Westerners like him who experienced obtained Southeast Asian relics amid the wars in Cambodia and Vietnam should be witnessed as obtaining rescued objects that may have normally been destroyed or forgotten.

“If the French and other Western collectors experienced not preserved this artwork, what would be the knowing of Khmer lifestyle these days?” he claimed.

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May Rothsmith

Half Thai and half American, digital nomad by mistake!