By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO
This morning the New York Times reported that consigner Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa and Sotheby's have signed an agreement to “voluntarily” repatriate the 10th century Duryodhana statue illegally removed from Prasat Chen, the most northern sanctuary in remote archaeological complex of Chok Gargyar in Northern Cambodia.
Located 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor, Chok Gargyar is often referred to in legal proceedings by its modern name, Koh Ker. The site and its temple complexes once made up the 10th century capital of the Angkorian empire. It is also one of the most remote and inaccessible temple sites in Cambodia.
The decision to repatriate the Duryodhana Hindu warrior follows the Metropolitan Museum of Art's June 2013 restitution of two life-size sandstone masterworks from the same temple complex. The two "Kneeling Attendants" had graced the the entrance to the Met’s South East Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.
Throughout the investigation Ms. Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa has maintained that she inherited the statue via her husband’s estate and that he had purchased the statue in good faith in London in 1975. A copy of the the United States legal complaint can be viewed here.
As part of the Stipulation and Order of Settlement accord signed on Thursday December 12, 2013 by Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, Sotheby's and U.S. federal attorneys, comes the statement that the plaintiffs “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that the object should be returned to Cambodia. Sotheby’s Spokesman, Andrew Gully went on the record to add that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”
It is interesting to speculate if this accord was in any way influenced by Aaron M. Freedman who pled guilty this month to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million. He was the long term manager of Subhash Kapoor’s art gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. As part of his plea agreement, Freedman has agreed to work with New York and US investigators with their investigation and prosecution of Kapoor who is currently being held in a Chennai jail awaiting trial.