US to Return Looted Relics

Three of Angkor Thom Heads. Photo: US Department of Justice

PHNOM PENH – More than 30 looted artifacts will be returned by the family of late American billionaire George Lindemann, the Ministry of Culture says.

The collection consists of 33 antiquities, including a 10th-century statue of Dhrishtadyumna, a 10th-century sculpture depicting Ardhanarishvara (half-male, half-female deity), a 10th-century Anantashayana Vishnu and six heads of devas (angels) and asuras (demons).

The relics were stolen from Prasat Chen and Prasat Krachap in Koh Ker, the ancient capital of the Khmer kingdom, and the gates of Angkor Thom in the Angkor complex.

Culture and Fine Arts Minister Phoeurng Sackona said Cambodia appreciated the Lindemann family who admitted that the relics had been illicitly taken and eventually volunteered to return them.

“This return is a good example for other museums and private collectors of the artifacts whom Cambodia has informed about the return,” she said.

Sackona also applauded the cultural cooperation with the US. The US-Cambodia Cultural Property Agreement, signed in 2003, had been extended for another five years with the US announcing an additional $450,000 fund for temple conservation.

“We are proud of the cooperation between Cambodia and the US to preserve the Cambodian culture and take back the looted relics,” she said.

“The repatriation of the cultural heritage contributes to the healing of the psychological wound of the Cambodian people who have been through civil war and genocide regime.”

She said that the statue of Dhrishtadyumna was a substantial item of humanitarian cultural heritage because it was among the​ nine deities.

The statue of Dhrishtadyumna. Photo: US Department of Justice

It was stolen during the civil war and put on auction by the Chinese Porcelain Company in 1994. The company’s headquarters are in New York City. Later, it was shown in the Architectural Digest Magazine.

Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the deal was between his office and the Lindemann family.

“This announcement supports the Memorandum of Understanding, known as the ‘US-Cambodia Cultural Property Agreement,’ first signed between the US and Cambodia in 2003 and renewed on August 30,” his office said.

US Attorney's Office and Homeland Security investigations have successfully investigated 65 stolen Cambodian antiquities since 2012.

In 2019, art dealer Douglas Latchford was indicted for wire fraud conspiracy, but the case was dismissed when he died in 2020.

In February 2023, 77 pieces of pre and Angkorian art that Latchford stole were delivered to Cambodia from the UK.

Latchford had been seen as an expert and benefactor in Cambodia’s cultural scene.

However, he was accused before he died of large-scale trading in looted antiquities. He made millions of dollars selling them to museums and wealthy collectors.

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