The Metropolitan Museum of Art to return more than a dozen ancient artworks following alleged links to looted art

7th century Head of Buddha

The head of a seventh-century Buddha sculpture is among the items being returned.US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New YorkCNN — 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will return more than a dozen Southeast Asian sculptures after they were linked to a late art dealer accused of trafficking artifacts looted from the region, according to the museum and the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum said in a statement it has initiated the return of 14 artworks to Cambodia and two to Thailand that were tied to Douglas Latchford, a British antiquities dealer and leading scholar on Khmer art.

Latchford was indicted in 2019 for “orchestrating a multi-year scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market,” the US attorney’s office said in a statement. The indictment was dismissed following Latchford’s death in 2020.

“The Met has been diligently working with Cambodia and the US 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,” said Max Hollein, the museum’s director and CEO.

10th century goddess sandstone statue from Koh Ker.

A 10th century goddess sandstone statue from Koh Ker will be returned to Cambodia.US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York

The sculptures to be returned depict the Hindu and Buddhist religious systems from the ninth and 14th centuries in the Angkorian period, according to the Met.

Some of the artworks being returned to Cambodia are from the Koh Ker archaeological site, including a sandstone goddess statue from the 10th century, the US attorney’s office said. Another is the “Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Seated in Royal Ease” from the late 10th to early 11th century, which depicts a sitting Buddha with his legs crossed.

Other statues date from as far back as the seventh century, including a statue head of Buddha, according to the US attorney’s office.

In a press statement, Cambodia’s Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Phoeurng Sackona, described the objects’ repatriation as “an act of healing for our nation.”

“The enormous importance to the Cambodian people, of these returns is difficult to overstate,” she said, expressing hope that other items of Cambodian origin — in the Met and elsewhere — will also be sent back. “We ask for other museums and private collectors to contact us to discuss their collections of Cambodian antiquities.”

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US Attorney Damian Williams meanwhile said that his office “will continue to vigorously investigate the illegal trade in stolen antiquities”

“We look forward to our continued dialogue with the Met on these important issue,” Williams said, adding: “We urge those in this space, including cultural institutions, to be vigilant. And If you work at one of these institutions or for a private collection and have concerns that certain pieces may be tied to illicit trafficking, do the right thing: https://fokuslahlagi.com come forward and work with us on a voluntary basis to facilitate the return to the rightful owners.”

Last August, as part of the ongoing investigation into artifacts bought and sold by Latchford, New York officials announced the return of 30 cultural artifacts to Cambodia after the items were illegally sold to private collectors and a US museum.

This article has been updated with reaction from Cambodia’s culture minister.

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