Showing posts with label Cambodian art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cambodian art. Show all posts

August 11, 2020

Dying to get away with it: How one defendant's death may thwart justice for the people of Cambodia, Thailand, and India

Douglas Latchford's Facebook page photo
on 9 November 2017, two years
before he was indicted in the USA
Wire fraud,
conspiracy to commit wire fraud,
conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States,
and entry of goods by means of false statements.

These were the five related charges pertaining to the trafficking in stolen and looted antiquities that art expert Douglas A. J. Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak” had been charged with in the 26-page indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice's U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York last November.  But since deceased persons cannot be prosecuted, the charges against Latchford will likely be dismissed by the court, once his death certificate, attesting to his demise on 2 August 2020, has been submitted to the court through his defense counsel.

Before the investigation into the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless antiquities from Cambodia, Thailand and India cast a long shadow over Latchford's activities, he was once considered a highly respected sponsor in museum circles, a person above reproach.  As such, his donations to the National Museum of Phnom Penh earned him a knighthood with the Royal Order of Saha Metrey Thnak Thib Badin, by the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, an honor conferred with an award brooch, pinned primarily on foreigners who have rendered distinguished services to the King and to the people of Cambodia.

Apparently unaware of Latchford's role in plundering, Hab Touch, then Director General of the Department General of Cultural Affairs, now Secretary of State and high representative of Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia once said of Latchford:

“His gifts are very important because these artifacts teach the Cambodian people about their history...We hope his generosity will set a good example for others.”

Other pieces acquired directly or indirectly through Latchford's network also dotted collections at many important art institutions, where, at the time of their acquisitions, questions of provenance didn't seem to bother the museum's renowned curators.

Latchford is known to have donated at least seven objects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York including the Kneeling Attendants (restituted), the stone head of a Buddha, and the bronze head of a Shiva, both from the 10th-century Khmer Angkor period.  He also donated four statues to the Denver Art Museum.

Other Latchford pieces found their way through direct or indirect sales and donations to US collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the Denver Art Museum and the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth.  Yet, Latchford's purported acts of generosity were not just for USA museums' benefit.  His hands also touched objects lent to the Berlin Museum for Ancient Art and to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

By 2012, the tracks of the looters of the tenth-century site of Koh Ker lead repeatedly to Latchford.  Identified in a civil lawsuit as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network,” he was alleged to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to obtain false export permits for the temple antiquities he brokered.

Some of the incriminating evidence against the dealer relates to a series of brazenly written emails.  One sent on 23 April 2007,  which left little to no doubt about Latchford's level of direct involvement and knowledge in transnational criminal activity against cultural artifacts.

Douglas Latchford's Facebook
photo on 28 October 2017,
two years before he was
indicted in the USA
In that email, Latchford is reported to have written:

"Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

Attached to the same brazen email was a photograph.  It depicted a freshly (and clandestinely) excavated standing Buddha statue, still freshly covered in dirt. 

A Manhattan DA's complaint also asserted that Latchford contrived to traffic in antiquities that coinvolved another ancient art dealer under investigation, Nancy Wiener. Citing another email seized by investigators, Latchford reportedly told Weiner that he would give bronze statues to his colleague Emma C. Bunker, in exchange for false provenance.  Sadly, and as if facilitating the plunder of Cambodia and Thailand were not enough, Latchford is known to have purchased, a Chandrasekara Shiva, a Chola bronze idol, stolen from the Sripuranthan temple in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu through another bad actor in the art market, dealer Subash Kapoor,

The same Emma C. Bunker worked closely with Latchford writing three seminal volumes on the art of the Khmer people: “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold,” and “Khmer Bronzes.”  Flipping through each of these image-heavy books one can easily understand the pathway to profit involving the plundered and missing cultural patrimony of Cambodia.

Asked in a 2014 interview, who held most of the orphan artworks depicted in the books, Latchford was cagey.  He answered saying they were held by collectors who trusted him to keep their identities confidential, leaving many unanswered questions that this dealer now takes to his grave, as sadly, dead men tell no tales.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 27, 2019

"Hold on to your hat": Antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”

Looted Cambodian art for sale by Douglas Latchford
Image Credit:  US DOJ
In a case being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein, in the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit, prominent 88-year-old British art collector and dealer Douglas A.J. Latchford has been indicted in the US Federal Court of the Southern District of New York.  The charges against the Bangkok-based dealer include "wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities."

Latchford in his home standing next to
a Chola period (880 - 1279) Somaskanda from Tamil Nadu
For 50 years Latchford has been considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Asian Art, and at one point was believed to be the biggest single contributor to the National Museum of Cambodia, one of the very countries outlined in the indictment unsealed today at the US Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.  According to the prosecution, Latchford is believed to have been a major stakeholder, acting as a cross-border conduit in an multi-billion dollar cultural property network which trafficked in plundered artifacts from Southeast Asia to some of the most important galleries, auction houses, and museums in the western world charging him with conspiracy to smuggle, false import statements, wire fraud, and the illicit transport and sale of stolen cultural property.

According to the US indictment it is alleged that "from at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, Latchford engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States."

The statue of warrior Duryodhana, which once graced the cover of Sotheby’s Asia Week catalog was returned to Cambodia.  In situ, this warrior was one of two matching statues facing each other in a rendition of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. 
Included in that list of fraudulent activity is involvement in the illicit removal and sale of the Angkorian sandstone statues stolen from Prasat Chen, the most northern sanctuary in the remote Koh Ker temple complex in Northern Cambodia.  Koh Ker (Khmer: ប្រាសាទកោះកេរ្ដិ៍) sits 120 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap and was briefly the capital of the Khmer kingdom from 928 to 944 CE.

In 2012, Latchford was already identified in a civil lawsuit, as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network” and said to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to obtain false export permits for the sandstone temple antiquities.

Some of the incriminating evidence against the dealer related to charges against him include a brazenly written email sent on/about April 23, 2007, which leaves little to no  doubt about the dealer's level of direct involvement and knowledge in transnational criminal activity against cultural artifacts.  Attached to this email was a photograph of a freshly (and clandestinely) excavated standing Buddha statue, still covered in dirt.  In that email, Latchford is reported as having written "Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

It should be noted that by 1996, Cambodia had already enacted its overarching Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which criminalizes both the unauthorized excavation, looting, and unauthorized export of antiquities, defining "movable cultural property found by chance" to be public property. This law, known colloquially as "the 1996 Law" remains in effect and is the relevant governing law, supported by a number of decrees, sub-decrees, and regulations.  Cambodia further demonstrates its determination to protect its cultural heritage by being a signatory to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (joined 1962); the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import (joined 1972); the World Heritage Convention (joined 1991); the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (joined 2002), and the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (joined 2007).

As part of the present indictment Latchford is also alleged to have created "false letters of provenance and false invoices" misrepresenting the nature, age, country of origin, and/or the value  of an antiquity in order to conceal the illicit nature of the objects he brokered.  It should also be mentioned that he is also mentioned obliquely, though not directly named, as Co-Conspirator #1, in the criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney against Nancy Wiener, and several co-conspirators in December 2016.

In that New York criminal complaint co-conspirator #1 (Latchford)

  • allegedly is an antiquities dealer based in London and Bangkok
  • allegedly entered into an agreement with Nancy Wiener to purchase and sell a looted Baphuon Shiva from Cambodia, dated to the 11th Century C.E
  • allegedly shipped the Baphuon Shiva to London to be “cleaned, put together, and mounted.”
  • allegedly sold Nancy Wiener a bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly falsified provenance along with Nancy Wiener and Co-conspirator 2 for the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly is a male 
  • allegedly admitted in email that he gave Co-Conspirator #2 bronze statues in exchange for false letters of provenance
  • allegedly purchased the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya from Subhash Kapoor
  • allegedly colluded with Nancy Wiener to create appraisal report for the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya 
Evidence collected in both cases illustrate a textbook formula of how looted antiquities are laundered onto the licit art market through poor controls and a lack of ethics and transparency among the major dealers working at the highest levels of the ancient art market.

Note: the charges contained in the US indictment are merely accusations and the defendant should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  For now Latchford, in purportedly poor health, remains at large in Bangkok, though it should be noted that the USA & Thailand signed an agreement on December 14, 1983 in which Article 2 permits extradition for any offense punishable under the laws of both States by imprisonment for more than one year.  By unsealing this indictment, it seems that the US intends to bring Latchford to the US, despite his reported ill health, to stand trial.

In conclusion, ARCA has elected to transcribe the entire SD/NY statement below, to make it searchable by future scholars conducting open source research on known/suspected traffickers.


Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging antiquities dealer DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”— with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities.  LATCHFORD remains at large, residing in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, LATCHFORD built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often straight from archeological sites, in the international art market. This prosecution sends a clear message to the art market and to those who profit from the illegal trafficking of cultural treasures: the United States and the Southern District of New York will use every legal tool to stop the plundering of cultural heritage.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said:  “The theft and trafficking of cultural property and priceless national treasures is a global concern. Historical artifacts are living sources of knowledge, objects of worships, and symbols of hope that must be safe guarded for future generations.  Through the investigative efforts of HSI special agents, three stolen artifacts from Cambodia and another from India, valued at a total of $750,000, were successfully recovered and will be returned to their rightful homeland.  In addition, an alleged major player in a multi-billion dollar cultural property transnational criminal network was identified and revealed.   Working hand in hand with our partners at the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, HSI will not waiver in its commitment to stopping the illicit distribution of cultural property, both domestically and abroad.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Background on Looting of Cambodian Antiquities

From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s, Cambodia experienced continuous civil unrest and regular outbreaks of civil war.  During these times of extreme unrest, Cambodian archeological sites from the ancient Khmer Empire, such as Angkor Wat and Koh Ker, suffered serious damage and widespread looting. This looting was widely publicized and well-known to participants in the international art market.

Looted artifacts usually entered the international art market through an organized looting network.  Local looters, often working with local military personnel, would remove statues and architectural elements from their original locations, sometimes breaking and damaging the antiquities in the process of excavation and transportation. The antiquities would be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts located in Thailand, particularly Bangkok. 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. Widespread looting of ancient Khmer and Cambodian antiquities continued into the 1990s.

The Scheme to Sell Looted Cambodian Antiquities

At all times relevant to this Indictment, DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak,” the defendant, was a prominent collector and dealer in Southeast Asian art and antiquities, in particular, ancient Cambodian art. Starting in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD supplied major auction houses, art dealers, and museums around the world, including in the United States, with Cambodian antiquities from the ancient Khmer Empire. LATCHFORD, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, maintained residences in Bangkok and London.

From at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, LATCHFORD engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States. As part of that scheme, in order to conceal that LATCHFORD’s antiquities were the product of looting, unauthorized excavation, and illicit smuggling, and to encourage sales and increase the value of his merchandise, LATCHFORD created and caused the creation of false provenance for the antiquities he was selling. In the context of art and antiquities, provenance refers to records and other evidence documenting the origin and history of ownership of an object. In particular, LATCHFORD misrepresented the provenance of Cambodian antiquities in letters, emails, invoices, and other communications. As part of the scheme, LATCHFORD also falsified invoices and related shipping documents to facilitate the international shipment of the antiquities to dealers and buyers, and to avoid restrictions on the importation of Khmer antiquities into the United States.

Beginning in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD regularly supplied an auction house based in the United Kingdom (“Auction House-1”) with looted Khmer antiquities, including from the archeological site of Koh Ker in Cambodia. LATCHFORD conspired with representatives of Auction House-1 and others to conceal the real provenance of looted Khmer antiquities and to create false export licenses and documentation. Many of the antiquities that LATCHFORD consigned to Auction House-1 were eventually sold to museums and collectors in the United States.  In or about 2011, an auction house in New York (“Auction House-2”) offered for sale one of the Koh Ker statutes that LATCHFORD had originally supplied to Auction House-1, a stone guardian figure called the “Duryodhana.” During the course of preparing to sell the Duryodhana in or about 2010, Auction House-2 asked LATCHFORD and a scholar closely associated with LATCHFORD (the “Scholar”) to help trace the provenance of the Duryodhana back to the early 1970s. LATCHFORD falsely stated to Auction House-2 that he had the Duryodhana in London in 1970, and that he had consigned it with Auction House-1 in 1975; whereas in truth and in fact LATCHFORD had exported the Duryodhana from Cambodia in or about 1972. About a month later, LATCHFORD changed his story, telling Auction House-2, in substance and in part, that he had never owned the Duryodhana. Around the same time that LATCHFORD falsely denied owning the Duryodhana, the Scholar warned LATCHFORD in an email, “I think maybe you shouldn’t be known to have been associated with the Koh Ker Guardian figures[.] . . . Let’s fudge a little, and just put the blame squarely on [Auction House-1] .  .  .  .”

Over the course of his lengthy career, LATCHFORD continued to act as a conduit for recently looted Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD advertised purportedly newly discovered and excavated pieces for sale to trusted associates, including a Manhattan-based dealer in Southeast Asian art (the “Dealer”). For example, on or about August 12, 2005, LATCHFORD emailed the Dealer photographs of a bronze seated Buddha, visibly covered in earth. Latchford explained that the photographs showed the statute “before cleaning” by a restorer, and “[w]hen it was found they took off most of the mud, or as it was, a sandy soil, it was found near Sra Srang, the lake in front of Banteay Kedi, right in the Angkor [Wat] Complex.”  Similarly, on or about March 13, 2006, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer an email labeled “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL -------- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.” The email contained a photograph of a bronze head. LATCHFORD explained that the head “was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines !! What price would you be interested in buying it at? let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”  On or about April 23, 2007, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer another email, attaching a photograph of a standing Buddha statute that appears to be covered in dirt. LATCHFORD wrote, “Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

In order to facilitate the sale and international transportation of the antiquities to buyers and to conceal that the antiquities were looted, LATCHFORD, created false letters of provenance and false invoices, including letters of provenance purporting to have been drafted by a particular art collector (the “False Collector”). For example, in or about 2000, LATCHFORD sold a 12th Century stone Khmer sculpture to a museum in Colorado (the “Colorado Museum”). LATCHFORD informed the Colorado Museum that he had purchased the piece from the False Collector in June 1999, and provided the Colorado Museum with a letter of provenance purportedly from the False Collector as part of the sale.  However, LATCHFORD also supplied the Colorado Museum with records indicating that the statute was transported from LATCHFORD’s residence in Bangkok to London in 1994, long before he claimed to have purchased it from the False Collector.  The False Collector died in or about 2001. Thereafter, LATCHFORD continued to provide numerous provenance letters purportedly provided by the False Collector, while claiming, falsely, that the False Collector was still alive.

On other occasions, LATCHFORD directed third parties to create false provenance documents and false invoices for him.  For example, in or about September 2005, LATCHFORD sold the Dealer a 12th Century Angkor Wat-style standing Buddha statue for $90,000. LATCHFORD told the Dealer that the Buddha “needs to be cleaned, as there is surface corrosion and earth still on it,” indicia of recent excavation. LATCHFORD arranged to ship the Buddha from Bangkok to an “antique consultant/collector” in Singapore (the “Singapore Collector”), and from Singapore to the Dealer’s gallery in Manhattan. LATCHFORD instructed the Singapore Collector to “re-invoice[]” the Buddha on the Collector’s letterhead, “mentioning it has been in your collection for the past 12 years.” The Singapore Collector followed LATCHFORD’s instructions, creating a new, false invoice and letter of provenance stating that the Buddha had been in the Singapore Collector’s private collection in Singapore for the last 12 years, omitting any mention of LATCHFORD, and falsely describing the statute as a “17th C. Bronze Standing Figure from Laos.” The Singapore Collector then shipped the Buddha with the false invoice and false provenance to the Dealer in Manhattan.

As part of the scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities in the United States, from at least in or about 2005 up to and including in or about 2011, LATCHFORD supplied false information to the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) regarding the antiquities he imported into the United States for resale. In particular, LATCHFORD’s false invoices misstated the nature, age, country of origin, and/or value of the Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD misrepresented the country of origin and the age of the goods in particular in order to conceal that they were looted antiquities, and to avoid an embargo on the importation into the United States of Khmer antiquities exported from Cambodia after 1999. Frequently, LATCHFORD listed the “country of origin” as “Great Britain” or “Laos,” rather than Cambodia, and often described the objects as “figures” from the 17th or 18th century.

*                      *                      *

February 29, 2016

How many repatriated (previously looted) Khmer statues can you name?

Torso of the warrior god Rama
On Wednesday February 24, 2016 the Denver Art Museum flew the repatriated tenth-century statue of the warrior god Rama, looted from Prasat Chen temple at the Koh Ker temple complex during the country's civil war in the early 1970s, home. The statue’s torso is missing its head, feet and hands.  Koh Ker (Khmer: ប្រាសាទកោះកេរ្ដិ៍) sits 120 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap and was briefly the capital of the Khmer kingdom from 928 to 944 CE. 

The Torso of Rama is just one of a series of sculptures from the Prasat Chen temple that have been repatriated over the last three years as the result of their identification as being looted. 

2 May 2013 - The Metropolitan Museum announced it will return two 10th century Koh Ker “Kneeling Attendants” which had been displayed as part of the Met’s permanent collection galleries for almost 20 years. 

December 2013 - The statue of warrior Duryodhana, which once graced the cover of Sotheby’s Asia Week catalog was returned.  In situ, this warrior was one of two matching statues facing each other in a rendition of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. 

3 June 2014 - The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena returned Duryodhana’s enemy Bhima. It had been on display at the museum since the 1970’s. 

June 2014 - The Christie’s auction also agreed to return a statue of Balarama which it had sold twice on the licit market, despite its illicit origins, once in 2,000, once in 2009,

May 2015 The Cleveland Museum of Art returned a one meter high sculpture of the monkey god Hanuman acquired by the Museum in 1982.

February 2016 - The Denver museum finally relinquishes the statue of the warrior god Rama at the urging of Unesco’s representative to Cambodia. 

Four more statues from the Prasat Chen temple are believed to be held in private collections.

Anne Lemaistre, Unesco’s representative to Cambodia made a public appeal to all collectors of Khmer antiquities stating,

“To have all of the statues returned to Cambodia is something Unesco has been working hard to achieve, and we appeal to anyone who may currently have one of the remaining statues in their private collection to follow the nice gesture of the Denver museum and return it,” 

For the present time the statues are being housed at National Museum in Phnom Penh. According to Cambodia Daily, the Rama torso is expected to undergo conservation treatment over the next year. 
It is hoped that there will be an opportunity to reconstruct the figure grouping as they were originally placed which can be seen in this video reconstruction.

Prasat Chen Temple at Koh Ker and “Kneeling Attendants” 




Monkey God Hanuman

June 30, 2014

His Highness Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong presented "The Duryodhana, the Balarama and the Bhima: a Cambodian perspective on the return of three pre-Angkorian sandstone statues from Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference

These photos were provided by M. Bertrand Porte, French
School for Asian Arts (EFEO), who is the head of the
restoration workshop of the National Museum in
Phnom Penh.
His Highness Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong of Cambodia presented "The Duryodhana, the Balarama and the Bhima: a Cambodian perspective on the return of three pre-Angkorian sandstone statues from Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

After apologizing for his accented English (he explained that he usually delivers his talks in French or Italian), he showed a video of archaeologist and cultural property lawyer Tess Davis who for the last decade has documented the plunder of Cambodia's ancient temples and worked for the return of the country's looted antiquities.

The Prince told the audience:
In Cambodia the preservation of the archeological patrimony has become one of the main topics discussed among members of the local intelligensia, but it is a recent phenomenon and it occurs mostly in western-influenced environments. The will of the Royal Governement is to educate in the most accessible way, to make people understand how sacred and holy these artcrafts are in our patrimony as Cambodians, and moreover, as survivors of a genocide, during which art and culture were cancelled. Sculpture schools, archeological trainings and preservation technique lessons are improving in quality and quantity all over the Kingdom. Little by little, more and more people are being educated to the duty to preserve and defend our cultural patrimony. Nevertheless, the wounds of war, poverty and the powerful groups sponsoring lootings and international art traffic are still prevailing and as long as there will be such a taste for Khmer Antiques, we will not be able to eradicate this sadly human lust for money.
Here's a link to Tess Davis' project at Trafficking Culture and another link to an article, "Temple Looting in Cambodia: Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network", co-written with Simon Mackenzie and published in the British Journal of Criminology.

His Highness Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong, was born in Phnom Penh in 1970; has been living mainly in Italy, in Rome, since 1997. Educated in France, holds a Master of Arts in Contemporary British Literature; founded in 1992 the Institute of the Royal Household of Cambodia with Professor Jacques Népote (CNRS). Recognised specialist of the history and the culture of Cambodia, has published books and articles regarding the social structures of Cambodia and the genealogy of the Khmer Royal Family. After a career as sales officer in various multinational private companies such as IBM and ACCOR, has collaborated as a Programme Officer and Consultant for many years with the United Nations (WFP, FAO & IFAD) and private sector with interests in Southeast Asia; has been for many years representative of the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism for Italy. You may follow him at his blog here: "Ravivaddhana Sisowath: Never Complain, Never Explain".

University of Glasgow's Simon MacKenzie received Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship for his work on the Trafficking Culture project

Noah Charney (left) and Simon Mackenzie (right) in Amelia
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

AMELIA - ARCA Founder Noah Charney presented the 2014 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship to Simon MacKenzie, Trafficking Culture project at The University of Glasgow,  at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

"I would like to thank ARCA for the award and my colleagues and graduate students at the University of Glasgow for their support and their individual contributions to the great research team we now have," Simon Mackenzie said about the award. "It's really valuable to receive peer recognition for research and I take this award as encouragement to continue with our efforts in the Trafficking Culture project to produce systematic and reliable empirical work in support of the development of crime reduction policies in this field."

Simon Mackenzie discussing Temple Looting in Cambodia
Upon receipt of the award, Professor Mackenzie invited attendees to visit the Trafficking Culture website and download the article on "Temple Looting in Cambodia: Anatomy of a Trafficking Network" (free for a limited time) via the British Journal of Criminology website here.

You may read more about Professor Mackenzie here.

Past winners: Norman Palmer (2009), Larry Rothfield (2010), Neil Brodie (2011), Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino (Jointly – 2012), Duncan Chappell (2013).

June 21, 2014

ARCA '14 Conference, Panel V: Looting, Litigation and Repatriation

The fifth panel at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference will feature:

Will it be the Getty Bronze or L'atleta di Fano? Italy's ongoing case for the return of the bronze statue of the Victorious Youth
Maurizio Fiorilli. Avvocato della Stato, Italy (Ret) and Stefano Alessandrini, Consultant

The Duryodhana, the Balarama and the Bhima: a Cambodian perspective on the return of three pre-Angkorian sandstone statues from Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex
His Highness Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong of Cambodia

June 6, 2014

Tess "Indiana Jane" Davis credited with helping return looted Hindu statues to Cambodia in the case of the Looted Temples of Koh ker

In a June 6th article in The Diplomat, journalist Luke Hunt points to the "critical" efforts of American researcher Tess Davis in the successful restitution of three looted Hindu statues returned to Cambodia this week:
Critical to their return was Tess Davis, a U.S. art lawyer and affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow, who stressed Cambodia had only won the first in a series of battles, in what could prove to be a protracted war over the return of looted art. “The kingdom has taken on the art market, an entire industry, and a powerful one at that,” Davis told The Diplomat. “Collectors, dealers, museums, auction houses, they have deep pockets and top lawyers on their side. But Cambodia has something even more important: the truth and the law. And that’s something no amount of money can buy.”
Davis, dubbed by some as ‘Indiana Jane,’ said the looting and trafficking of antiquities was a crime that would no longer be tolerated, “not by governments, not by law enforcement, and not by the leaders in the art world itself.” The thefts have also been seen as a symbol of Cambodia’s perennial problems, ranging from corruption to a culture of impunity among the country’s well-heeled and politically connected. Davis said Cambodia had given the art world a simple choice, “to do the right thing or not.” She said the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Christie’s had stepped up and fulfilled their obligations, but others like the Cleveland Museum of Art and Sotheby’s have been more reluctant. “They are fighting with everything they have to stay in the past, a past where they could do whatever they wanted. They act like antiquated colonial relics, while their competitors have entered the 21st-century, and are thriving in it,” Davis said.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt [and you can follow Tess Davis @Terressa_davis.

Ms. Davis taught the course, Cultural Property Law, at ARCA's postgraduate certificate program in art crime in 2009.

June 4, 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - ,, No comments

Cambodia celebrates the reunion of three Hindu statues after four decades

Photo credit to Tess Davis (Facebook)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Tess Davis, former ARCA lecturer in Cultural Property Law for our program in 2009 and 2010, is in Cambodia celebrating the return of three ancient statues and posting links on Facebook to news headlines.

"Statues 40 year reunion":  Laignee Barron & Vong Sukheng reported for The Phneom Penh Post:
Three of Cambodia’s ancient sandstone warriors were welcomed back to their birthplace yesterday, greeted by lotus wreathes and a troupe of traditional dancers adorned in gold. The ceremony marked the end of a 40-year absence for the Duryodhana, Bhima and Balarama statues. The mammoth, 10th-century characters all belong to the same tableau of mythological Hindu figures once locked in battle at Prasat Chen, a remote jungle temple in Preah Vihear. Over the past year, Cambodia has regained five of the nine statues pillaged from the temple’s Eastern entrance, haphazardly hacked from their pedestals and sold on to international art markets during the Khmer Rouge era. “Surviving civil wars, looting, smuggling and travelling the world, these three have now regained their freedom and returned home,” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said during yesterday’s repatriation ceremony.
Here's a link to a video of the ceremony.

"Cambodia welcomes back looted 10th-century statues": Kate Bartlett, Anadolu Agency, reported:
With the help of the U.S. government and UNESCO,Cambodia first got the ball rolling in 2012 when it filed a suit against the New York-based auction house Sotheby's after the institution put a statue known as "The Duryodhana" -- valued at about $3 million -- up for sale. Earlier this year, with the case still ongoing, Sotheby's agreed to return the statue. The mighty "Duryodhana" was one of the impressive pieces unveiled at Tuesday's ceremony, alongside statues known as the Bhima and Balarama, returned by the Norton Simon Museum of California and Christie's auction house, respectively. While legal action was originally taken against Sotheby's in the case of the "Duryodhana," Christie's returned its statue voluntarily after discovering it was looted. The Norton Simon Museum did the same. 
Tess Davis, an affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow who specializes in cultural heritage law, said Tuesday, "It's a very exciting day, not just for Cambodia, but for all countries that have been plundered." "Cambodia's on the right side of history here," she added. 
Anne Lemaistre, head of Cambodia's UNESCO office, called the statues' return "a big coup" for Cambodia and said that it might act as an incentive for other museums and private collectors to return looted antiquities. "Now let's see what Cleveland would say," Lemaistre said, referring to the museum’s recent denial that the Angkor statue in its possession was looted. 
Buddhist majority Cambodia, which has a rich cultural heritage influenced by Indian traditions and Hindu legends, is famed for its temples, and the intricate engravings of graceful traditional dancers and mythological characters adorning their walls. Representatives from Christie's and the Norton Simon who attended the ceremony said they were delighted to have been able to help Cambodia recover some of its valuable cultural heritage. "These statues... were callously hacked... and trafficked on the international art market," Jeff Daigle, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, said in a speech, expressing the U.S.’s commitment to stopping the illegal arts trade. "We must not forget that the commercial trade in illicit art remains," he added.
 In 2011, Ms. Davis wrote about the lack of provenance in auction catalogue for objects from Cambodia.

May 21, 2014

LA Times' Mike Boehm on the return of the "Temple Wrestler" from the Norton Simon Museum to Cambodia

Mike Boehm, an arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times, publishes today on the return of the "Temple Wrestler" from the Norton Simon Museum to Cambodia (see here for the museum's announcements earlier this month).

Boehm quoted the museum's legal status in avoiding a lawsuit:
The Norton Simon took a different approach, based on past cordial relations with Cambodia's cultural authorities. Without a suit having been filed, museum representatives went to Phnom Penh for discussions earlier this year. Despite what the museum characterized as "a good-faith difference of views" with Cambodia over whether the Norton Simon was legally obliged to send the statue back, its leaders concluded that there were special reasons to send it home. "While there are extremely strong legal arguments for why we could defeat a claim, and while the Cambodian law is ambiguous at best, in this circumstance it seems appropriate and in keeping with the positive relationship the Norton Simon has had with Cambodia over the years to gift the statue to them," said Luis Li, an attorney for the museum. "They have a very specific archaeological context they want to create, and I think the Norton Simon was moved by that."
And on other Cambodian art at the Norton Simon Museum, Boehm writes:
The Norton Simon Museum will still own 40 ancient Cambodian objects, including a gigantic standing figure of Buddha that serves as a greeter in its lobby, and a lion that crouches on guard near the entrance to the gallery where Bhima will soon no longer preside. It's uncertain whether a dozen other pieces are from Cambodia or from Thailand. "We have not been approached by Cambodian or U.S. officials about other works in the collection and have no indication of future requests," museum spokeswoman Leslie Denk said this week.

May 17, 2014

Norton Simon Museum announces "Temple Wrestler" last day on display in Pasadena will be May 22

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Today the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena sent out an email to the community:
Dear members and friends, 
You may have read in the newspaper that the Norton Simon Art Foundation is making a gift of its “Temple Wrestler” statue to the Kingdom of Cambodia. This monumental 10th-century sandstone sculpture depicting Bhima, a heroic figure from the Hindu masterpiece The Mahabharata, has been exhibited continuously at the Norton Simon Museum for nearly four decades. During this period, the Museum has taken great care to preserve the work, and to highlight its significance through scholarly research and publication. Now, following a compelling request from officials in Cambodia, the piece will return to its country of origin, joining several other sculptures that are believed to have once stood at a temple in Koh Ker. 
We wanted to inform you that the last day this remarkable artwork will be on public view is next Thursday, May 22nd. For those of you interested in seeing it before it makes its journey to Phnom Penh and to the National Museum there, we hope you will visit us in the coming days. 
Kind regards, 
Leslie C. Denk Director of Public Affairs
On May 6, 2014, the museum had issued a press release announcing the return of the "Temple Wrestler" to the Kingdom of Cambodia "in response to a unique and compelling request by top officials in Cambodia to help rebuild its “soul” as a nation, the Norton Simon has decided to make a gift of the Bhima to the Kingdom of Cambodia and to its people":
The Norton Simon properly acquired the Bhima from a reputable art dealer in New York in 1976. However, the facts about the Bhima’s provenance prior to the dealer’s ownership are unclear because of the chaotic wartime conditions in Cambodia during the 1970s. Even though the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Norton Simon have a good faith difference of views in relation to the meaning and scope of Cambodian law and guidelines governing the determination of ownership of the Bhima, the Norton Simon worked directly with Cambodia to come up with a mutually acceptable solution.
Page 287 of the Handbook of the Norton Simon Museum (2003) contains the image of this statue, identified as a sandstone TEMPLE GUARDIAN 'typical of those found at the site of Koh Ker, which for a brief period (921-928) served as the capital of the Khmer empire'. Other than the acquisition date of 1980, no other information is provided about how the statue traveled from Cambodia to the United States.

December 30, 2013

Was the repatriation of a footless 10th century statue to Cambodia this month related to Sotheby's history of selling Khmer pieces with "no published provenance" or "weak" collecting histories?

This month's repatriation of a 10th century footless sandstone statue looted from an archaeological site in Cambodia has a backstory going back a few years. In an academic article published in July 2011, Tess Davis, then assistant director of Heritage Watch, wrote that Sotheby's Auction House had listed 377 Khmer pieces for sale between 1988 and 2010:
Seventy-one percent of the antiquities had no published provenance, or ownership history, meaning they could not be traced to previous collections, exhibitions, sales, or publications. Most of the provenances were weak, such as anonymous private collections, or even prior Sotheby’s sales. None established that any of the artifacts had entered the market legally, that is, that they initially came from archaeological excavations, colonial collections, or the Cambodian state and its institutions. While these statistics are alarming, in and of themselves, fluctuations in the sale of the unprovenanced pieces can also be linked to events that would affect the number of looted antiquities exiting Cambodia and entering the United States. This correlation suggests an illegal origin for much of the Khmer material put on the auction block by Sotheby’s
In the summer of 2011, Jane Levine of Sotheby's objected to Ms. Davis' article and demanded a retraction. About six months later, Cambodia asked that Ms. Levine be removed from a cultural panel based on perceived ethical conflicts.

At the end of February 2012, Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal wrote in The New York Times ("Mythic Warrior is Captive in Global Art Theft", February 28, 2012) that the Cambodian government had asked the U.S. for help to stop the sale of a reputedly looted 10th century Khmer Koh Ker footless sandstone statue Sotheby's intended to sell in March. This month, almost two years later, an agreement was reached to return the disputed statue, now described as a Duryodhana statue, to Cambodia ("Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner").

Ms. Davis is now a Researcher in the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

December 13, 2013

Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

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.

February 17, 2013

Cambodia Says Sotheby's Jane A. Levine Should Leave Culture Panel

Cambodia's minister of culture and fine arts protested the inclusion of Jane A. Levine, senior vice president and worldwide compliance director for Sotheby's, on the U.S. Cultural Property Advisor Committee, according to a letter written to the U. S. State Department last fall (Tom Mashberg, "Cambodia See Ethical Conflict in Import Panel", New York Times, Feb. 15).

The panel is scheduled to discuss the regulation of Cambodian and Khmer Empire cultural artifacts, Mashberg reports, but Sotheby's says that due to a scheduling conflict Levine will not attend the meeting next month. Mashberg re-accounts the current legal dispute:

Sotheby’s and the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York are currently awaiting a judge’s ruling on whether to permit a lawsuit over a 10th-century Khmer statue, valued at $3 million, to go to trial. 
At Cambodia’s request, the American government sought last April to seize the hulking sandstone sculpture, depicting a mythic Hindu warrior, from Sotheby’s. Cambodia said the statue was looted in the 1970s from a crumbling temple in an ancient complex called Koh Ker. 
Sotheby’s has said that there is no proof that the statue was removed from Cambodia after 1970, and that its Belgian consignor’s husband, now deceased, had bought it in good faith from a London antiquities dealer in 1975.

Here's a blog post from October 2011 regarding Sotheby's sales history of objects from Cambodia based upon the work of Tess Davis of Heritage Watch.

July 15, 2012

Press Release for the 2012 ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

by Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA

The fourth annual ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection was held June 23-24 in Amelia, Umbria, the seat of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, a program held in Italy every summer that is the first academic program in the interdisciplinary study of art crime. Among the many important speakers were winners of the annual awards presented by ARCA, including George Abungu, the leading spokesperson for the protection of cultural heritage in Africa; Joris Kila, a co-winner with Karl von Habsburg, who is a specialist in the protection of art and monuments during military operations; and Jason Felch, co-winner with Ralph Frammolino, for his investigative work in the , about the Getty art scandals.

HRH Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia
A surprise addition to the roster of speakers at the conference was His Royal Highness, Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia. His Highness spoke about the recent seizure from Sotheby’s of the Koh Kher statue by US authorities.

Fabio Isman
Isman, Italy’s leading investigative journalist on the black market in antiquities, and winner of a 2011 ARCA award, spoke of the continued problem of looted Italian antiquities, and the extent of the problem as a whole, which is far greater than most realize. An estimated 7% of all works looted from Italy since the Napoleonic era have been returned—the rest remains abroad. That said, Italy has had more art repatriated than any other country, in any period in history, aside from the immediate repatriation of post-World War Two Nazi-looted art. A Princeton University study estimates that, since 1970 alone, approximately 1.5 million items were looted from Italy. Isman’s research found around 25,000 items that had been identified and returned. What is still out there is staggering. Isman discussed cases within the last six months that show the continued willingness for museums to trade in illicit antiquities.

Laurie Rush
The Writer in Residence on the ARCA Program for 2012, Dr Rush is an archaeologist with the US Army who is charged with training US soldiers and officers about the importance of respecting and protecting local cultural heritage and traditions in combat zones. Conflict offers opportunity for theft, but also and far more frequent the inadvertent damage of cultural property. Rush noted the Italian antiques market magazine Antiquariato, in 2011, wrote that this was the best time to collect Egyptian antiquities, referring to the social turmoil in Egypt, which would surely turn up more antiques smuggled out of the country. Dr Rush is preparing the US Field Commander’s Guide to Cultural Heritage Protection, and is an advocate of paying local families in conflict zones like Afghanistan, who have lost their livelihood, to protect and supervise local cultural heritage sites—they are empowered, paid a small amount that is large to them, and are best situated to respectfully function as long-term protector of a site.

Bill Wei
Dr Wei, of the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage, is an engineer and conservator who spoke of a new system for “fingerprinting” artworks that he has helped to develop. The system is called Fing-Art-Print, and is a non-contact method for the three-dimensional identification of unique art objects.
Joris Kila
Dr Kila, who accepted the award on behalf of both winners, discussed his adventures investigating accusations of looting in Libya, and found no such evidence, aside from the now-renowned Ben Ghazzi coin heist, in which thieves elaborately drilled through a thick cement bank vault floor during bombings. Dr Kila also emphasized the tremendous success of precision bombing during the Libya conflict: Ghaddafi had situated key military targets on or next to archaeological sites, to dissuade bombings. And yet the precision bombing was so successful that no archaeological items were damaged, and yet the targets were destroyed, even when they were situated beside the archaeological site. Dr Kila showed photographs of destroyed military transports and radar machinery that stood within meters of a Roman ruin, and yet the ruin was entirely unharmed.

Jason Felch
Felch accepted the award on behalf of both parties. He discussed his immersion in the world of illicit antiquities and major museums, and how he slowly uncovered a vast cache of tens of thousands of documents and images of looted art, many of the documents explicitly proving that insiders at the Getty had knowingly purchased looted antiquities over many years, and were making secret plans to cover up their actions. While the Getty has returned 60 objects looted from Italy, a secret Getty memo uncovered by Felch and Frammolino noted around 350 total looted objects that Getty officials were concerned could be targeted by Italy because they were looted. Felch also described his WikiLoot project, a new endeavor in its infant stages which Felch envisions as a crowd-sourcing online platform to publish documents and photographs related to the illicit trade in antiquities. He intends to publically publish these tens of thousands of documents and photos in the future. The ARCA Conference, and Jason’s activities, were covered recently in The Guardian.

George Abungu
The final award of the day was for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, and when to George H. O. Abungu. Dr. Abungu, a native of Kenya, has served on multiple chairs and committees related to protection world and African cultural heritage. He was Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya, and is now Vice-President of ICOM, serves on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, among his many distinguished titles and activities. Dr Abungu discussed the protection and preservation of rock art throughout Africa. Rock carvings and paintings dating to thousands of years BC are found throughout Africa, from South Africa to Morocco—and yet they are largely at exposed, though remote, sites and are therefore at risk of the elements, looting, and occasional vandalism.

Paolo Giorgio Ferri
The renowned Italian prosecutor, winner of an ARCA award in 2011, returned to give a keynote speech, discussing his discovery of a forged Euphronios kylix that had been mixed in with authentic looted antiquities and passed off by tomb raiders as original, demonstrating the alarming link between forgeries and the illicit antiquities trade. While artist foundations preserve the legacy of modern painters, there are no organizations charged with preserving the legacy of the ancients. Dr Ferri discussed the importance of enforcing the well-meaning, but not always effective customs laws put in place by UNESCO and the Palermo Convention. He also was asked why the infamous art dealer Robin Symes has not been indicted by Italy. He responded that there were many factors, including the non-cooperation of the UK, the end of the statute of limitations for the main case Italy had built against Symes (the crime took place in 1982 but the evidence was only complete in 2004), and the face that Symes had cooperated with Italian authorities in the recovery of some looted antiquities taken by other dealers, including an ivory mask that was recovered thanks to Symes, and for information about the Fleischman collection laundering operation.

March 1, 2012

Cambodia's Antiquities: Objects on hold pending legal status

A recent article in The New York Times again focused attention on the status of antiquities coming out of Cambodia, a country that changed statehood in the 20th century. Many countries, such as Turkey and Italy just to name two, wrote laws forbidding the export of art or cultural property beginning in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Turkey, like Cambodia, went from an imperialistic reign to a republic and rules were restated to be reapplied to the new sovereignty.

Tom Mashberg (co-author of Stealing Rembrandts and a veteran reporter on the theft of the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and Ralph Blumenthal write in the NYT about the current status of an object from Ankor Wat in "Mythic Warrior is Captive in Global Art Theft" (subtitled "Sotheby's Caught in Dispute Over Prized Cambodian Statue"). Of particular note is research conducted by Cambodian scholar Tess Davis, executive director of the Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage, who believes that a 1925 law that nationalizes Cambodian cultural property. International cooperation and agreement has been sought for more than four decades under UNESCO's 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

As the NYT reports:
If international legal authorities and American civil courts agree, the law could establish 1925, rather than 1993, as the dividing point after which Cambodian artifacts taken without government permits can be treated as stolen property. Cambodia would still have to prove that the statue was looted after 1925, “a high burden but not an impossible one,” according to Mr. Bogdanos, who agrees the 1925 law “appears to be valid.”
Further information about the sale of Cambodian cultural property through Sotheby's was covered last October on the ARCA blog here.

A recent email from Tess Davis sent to "Friends of Cambodia" requested the assistance for His Excellency Hab Touch, Director General of the Department of Heritage in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MOCFA) to attend the Tulane-Siena summer abroad law school courses in Cultural Heritage and the Arts in Italy this June. The purpose of the trip, according to Ms. Davis, is to "strengthen Cambodia's understanding of its legal options for protecting its patrimony within the country and repatriating those antiquities already looted and stolen from the country."

ARCA has offered material support to the Cambodian contingent, and has offered studentships to interested individuals from the Cambodian Department of Heritage.

The MOCFA does not have a lawyer or other legal expert on staff, nor is there a single Cambodian attorney working in this subject area, according to Ms. Davis: "This is greatly hindering the country's ability to legally safeguard and recover its cultural heritage." Anyone who would like to provide assistance, is welcome to contact Tess Davis at

October 5, 2011

What does lack of provenance indicate in sales catalogues? Tess Davis of Heritage Watch writes that Sotheby's lack of provenance information from 1988-2010 indicates sale of looted antiquities; Compliance Officer Jane Levine of Sotheby's Disagrees

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

The Getty Center's exhibit in 2011, Gods of Angkor, displayed masterpieces from the National Museum of Cambodia in a small room at the Brentwood complex from February through August. But throughout the 1990s, Sotheby's sold Cambodian art through various auctions. Where did these pieces originate from and were they looted or legally traded?

Tess Davis, assistant director of Heritage Watch, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of cultural property in Southeast Asia, published an article, "Supply and demand: exposing the illicit trade in Cambodian antiquities through a study of Sotheby's auction house" in the July issue of Crime, Law and Social Change (Springer Science+Business Media BV 2011). This is the abstract:
"Looters are reducing countless ancient sites to rubble in their search for buried treasures to sell on the international market. The trafficking of these and other stolen cultural objects has developed into a criminal industry that spans the globe. For numerous reasons, the small Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia presents an opportunity to ground this illicit trade in reality. This paper supplements previous studies that have detailed the pillaging of the country’s archaeological sites, and aims to better comprehend the trafficking of its artifacts, through an investigation of their final destination: the international art market. Of course, the global market for Cambodian art is wide, but Sotheby’s Auction House provides an excellent sample. For over 20 years, its Department of Indian and Southeast Asian Art in New York City has held regular sales of Cambodian antiquities, which have been well published in print catalogues and on the web. These records indicate that Sotheby’s has placed 377 Khmer pieces on the block since 1988—when those auctions began—and 2010. An analysis of these sales presents two major findings. Seventy-one percent of the antiquities had no published provenance, or ownership history, meaning they could not be traced to previous collections, exhibitions, sales, or publications. Most of the provenances were weak, such as anonymous private collections, or even prior Sotheby’s sales. None established that any of the artifacts had entered the market legally, that is, that they initially came from archaeological excavations, colonial collections, or the Cambodian state and its institutions. While these statistics are alarming, in and of themselves, fluctuations in the sale of the unprovenanced pieces can also be linked to events that would affect the number of looted antiquities exiting Cambodia and entering the United States. This correlation suggests an illegal origin for much of the Khmer material put on the auction block by Sotheby’s."
According to journalists Riah Pryor and Melanie Gerlis of The Art Newspaper (October 2011) in their article "Sotheby's calls on author to retract looted art report", Jane Levine, Sotheby's world-wide director of compliance, wrote a letter dated August 26 to Davis requesting that her published article be retracted. According to the journalists: 
Levine objects principally to the report's view that that auction house routinely sold Khmer antiquities that were illegally removed or transported out of Cambodia and says 'the paper is devoid of any credible factual support for such serious and damaging allegations.'
Levine, who spoke on a panel at the meeting commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Convention in March in Paris at UNESCO about Sotheby's stricter compliance regulations in selling antiquities, 'says a lack of provenance, particularly when limited to a catalogue entry, does not necessarily mean the origin is illegal,' Pryor and Gerlis quoted.

In her article, Davis wrote:
"Sotheby’s has repeatedly been caught auctioning stolen art and looted antiquities, including pieces from Cambodia. For example, Sotheby’s repatriated two sandstone heads and a statuette to Cambodia after they were published by Looting in Angkor: One Hundred Missing Objects, a 1993 report of UNESCO’s International Council of Museums (ICOM), which pleaded for the return of 100 valuable antiquities stolen from the Conservation d’Angkor in the 1980s and early 1990s. In his exposé Sotheby’s: The Inside Story (1997), journalist Peter Watson uncovered that sculptures from Angkor Wat had been smuggled into Sotheby’s London offices disguised as “dolls” and “stone torsos,” on at least two separate occasions."
This history at Sotheby's prompted Davis to look at Sotheby's auction catalogues from 1988 to 2010 in regards to the sale of Cambodian art. The absence of the information about the provenance or the history of the objects prompted Davis to ask about the legality of the sale of these objects, a question raised for the past 40 years since the international UNESCO treaty began the dialogue that only cooperation between countries could stem the looting and sale of looted cultural property. In 2006, a PBS show, Illicit Antiquities, featured Heritage Watch discussing the loss of cultural property from Cambodia.

Davis' survey of Sotheby catalogues over more than 20 years found that almost 70% of the objects for sale omitted information about the history of sale of the objects. Levine objects to Davis' observations and the conclusion that such an omission facilitates the sale of potentially looted objects. Levine and Sotheby's could continue the discussion about the auction house's sale of Cambodian art by now providing the information to document the legal or illegal trade of these objects.

ARCA blog caught up via email with Heritage Watch's founder and director, Dr. Dougald O'Reilly, and asked him about the extent of looting in Cambodia:
Dr. O'Reilly: Looting is still a major problem in Cambodia, yes. The type of looting has evolved from targeting temple sites for sculpture and relief (although this still occurs) to looting prehistoric sites, digging up graves for beads and other artefacts.
Is it important that provenance information be published in an auction house's sales catalogue?
Dr. O'Reilly: Publishing provenance is crucial. If there is no provenance, it is rather suspicious.  It should be part of the auction houses' codes of conduct.
Would I want to know this information before purchasing an object from Cambodia?
Dr. O'Reilly: If you were a buyer, yes you should want to know this unless you care little for the preservation of cultural heritage. One of the problems is that collectors often see themselves as protectors of the past, 'it is safer with me than in the developing country it came from' attitude. Clearly this is a neo-colonialist, out-dated and arrogant point of view but it is always the argument brought to bear. The British government have used it for decades in regard to the Parthenon marbles. Why have they not been returned when there is a state-of-the-art facility in Athens to house them?