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US returns 30 stolen ancient artworks to Cambodia

#returns #stolen #ancient #artworks #Cambodia

The United States on Monday returned to Cambodia 30 stolen artworks and antiques that had been looted from the Southeast Asian nation, including an ancient Khmer town, and illegally smuggled around the world for decades.

Manhattan Attorney Damian Williams officially turned over the looted antiques to Cambodia’s Ambassador to the United States, Keo Chhea, before the press.

“We celebrate the return of Cambodia’s cultural heritage to the Cambodian people and reaffirm our commitment to curb the illicit trade in art and antiques,” Williams said.

Among the 30 works were a 10th-century sculpture of the Hindu deity Skanda seated on a peacock, and a 10th-century sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha. Both were stolen from Koh Ker, the ancient Khmer capital located 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Angkor’s famous temples, Williams’ office said in a statement.

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

Thousands of Khmer statues and sculptures were smuggled from Cambodia to antique dealers in Bangkok over the decades before being illegally exported to collectors, businessmen and even museums in Asia, Europe and the United States, federal prosecutors said.

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

The New York Attorney’s Office is involved in the restitution of a large number of works. From summer 2020 to the end of 2021, at least 700 pieces were returned to 14 different countries, including Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Greece and Italy.

In 2021, American collector Michael Steinhardt returned about 180 antiques stolen from around the world over the past few decades as part of a deal with the government.

The pieces had a combined value of $70 million.

The settlement between the US judiciary and 80-year-old Steinhardt has allowed him to avoid indictment but bans him from buying works on the legitimate art market for the rest of his life.

Angkor, the world’s largest archaeological site at 400 square kilometers, was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which existed from the 9th to the 14th centuries.

The site, which recently reopened to tourists after a two-year pandemic-related closure, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

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