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New York’s Met museum returns Southeast Asian artifacts tied to looting

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City said on Friday that it would return 14 sculptures to Cambodia and two to Thailand that were associated with an art dealer who was charged with trafficking looted antiquities in 2019.

People stand outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, U.S., July 11, 2021. Photo by Reuters

People stand outside The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, U.S., July 11, 2021. Photo by Reuters

The return of the sculptures to their countries of origin would empty the Met’s collection of art associated with Douglas Latchford, a dealer charged with smuggling looted artifacts from Southeast Asia, the museum said.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York indicted Latchford for supplying major auction houses, art dealers and museums with looted antiquities and falsifying documentation about where he obtained the art. Latchford died at his home in Bangkok in 2020, the New York Times reported.

“The Met has been diligently working with Cambodia and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for years to resolve questions regarding these works of art, and new information that arose from this process made it clear that we should initiate the return of this group of sculptures,” Max Hollein, the Met’s director and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The art being repatriated was produced between the 9th and 14th centuries in the Angkorian period, and reflects Hindu and Buddhist religious influences, the museum said.

Important Cambodian archeological sites from the ancient Khmer empire were targeted by looters during the country’s extended period of civil unrest, from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s. Artifacts entered the international art market through an organized looting network and smuggling process that Latchford used to obtain his art, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in its indictment.

The repatriation of the artwork follows the Met’s pledge to review the works in its collection with an eye towards cultural property and the museum’s past collecting practices, the museum statement said.

U.S. authorities have spent more than a decade working on locating artifacts looted from Cambodia and have made previous returns from various sources.

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