Tuesday 11 January 2022

Major US private Collection Of Cambodian And Southeast Asian Antiquities Is Subject Of Forfeiture Action Filed In Manhattan Federal Court

Press release: Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York Tuesday, January 11, 2022 ("The allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations").  The filing was announced of

"a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of 35 Cambodian and Southeast Asian antiquities from a private American collection for the purpose of returning the antiquities to their countries of origin. Antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford sold the collection to its present owner (the “Collector”) with false statements and fake provenance documents intended to hide the fact that the antiquities were the products of looting, and then imported the antiquities through lies on customs paperwork. The Collector has voluntarily relinquished possession of the antiquities".
According to the Complaint Latchford sold 34 antiquities to the Collector between in or about 2003 and in or about 2007. They were bronze and sandstone sculptures and artefacts taken from countries in Southeast Asia (primarily Cambodia, but also India, Myanmar, and Thailand). They include a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha from Koh Ker, an ancient capital of the Khmer empire; and bronze sculptures from the vicinity of Angkor Wat.
Over the years, Latchford lied to and withheld information from the Collector in order to conceal that the [antiquities] were stolen, and supplied the Collector with false provenance documents and false information about the origin of certain of [them]. After Latchford sold the [antiquities], many of them were then illegally imported into the United States based on false statements Latchford made to CBP and others. In 2019, Latchford was indicted in the Southern District of New York with wire fraud conspiracy and other crimes related to a many-year scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, primarily by creating false provenance documents and falsifying invoices and shipping documents, including misrepresenting the country of origin of artworks. See United States v. Latchford, 19 Cr. 748 (AT) (the “Indictment”). In September 2020, the Indictment was dismissed due to Latchford’s death. In 2021, an agent of HSI contacted the Collector about the [antiquities in their possession]. The Collector promptly cooperated with the Government’s inquiries and allowed the Government to inspect the[]m. After the Collector learned more about [they] voluntarily relinquished possession of the [antiquities] so that they can be repatriated to their countries of origin.
And of course the looters and middlemen Latchford was dealing with once again get off scot-free. The efforts of the anonymous collector to verify the authenticity of the various scraps of paper the dealer was proffering as proof that he had come by them licitly are not described. Did he really know nothing about the illicit origins of all those antiquities he bought? It is not clear why there is a discrepancy in the press release between "35 antiquities" and "34 Res in rem".

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