An invaluable collection of Cambodian cultural artifacts will be returned to Cambodia, as a result of the between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the U.S. Government.

According to a press release of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the U.S. Government, led by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (USAO-SDNY”) and Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), has filed a civil forfeiture action relating to 28 Cambodian cultural artifacts. HSI, in cooperation with USAO SDNY, seized the sculptures from the person.

The artifacts include a large Ganesha believed to be from Prasat Bak Temple at Koh Ker. According to witnesses, this statue was removed about 2 decades ago. In 2020, it was listed by The Antiquities Coalition as one of the top 10 most wanted looted statues in the world.

“This sculpture of Ganesha is another astonishing example of the brilliance of our ancestors. Ganesha, the Hindu god with an elephant’s head, is widely known for its wisdom and power to overcome obstacles and its return home will be a momentous occasion for Cambodia. Other artifacts include a sandstone Buddha sculpture from 7th-8th century, a 10th century Hindu god Vishnu, and a 10th century bronze image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi,” H.E. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, stated.

This repatriation shows Cambodia’s continuing commitment to finding and bringing back our ancestors’ souls that departed from their motherland over a number of years, including during a period of war, she underlined.

“We are thrilled by the agreement by a major private collector to cooperate with U.S. authorities and return such a large collection of statues acquired from the late collector/dealer, Douglas A. J. Latchford. We encourage other private collectors and museums to follow this private collector’s decision and to contact us now to discuss repatriation to the rightful owner,” H.E. Minister added.

H.E. Phoeurng Sackona also extended her appreciation to others involved in the repatriation of this incredible collection. “I would like to express my utmost gratitude to our Prime Minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen for his wise leadership and the win-win policy that has brought peace to Cambodia, opening the possibility for the return of the souls of Khmer ancestors who departed from their motherland during the war and conflict,” she said.

H.E. Minister thanked and praised the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, HSI and all relevant authorities both abroad and in Cambodia, particularly the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Ministry’s team of archaeologists and researchers. She also extended special thanks to Bradley J. Gordon of Edenbridge Asia and Steven Heimberg of Heimberg Barr LLP. Mr. Gordon and Mr. Heimberg have spent many years helping the ministry’s officials negotiate the return of Khmer cultural treasures and, in collaboration with a Cambodian team, have been instrumental in effecting the recovery of many invaluable cultural properties.

“We are proud of our joint efforts and cooperation between the governments of our two countries and their impact on restoring to our country important masterpieces of our cultural heritage for the benefit of all humanity and particularly Cambodia’s younger generation. I applaud the decision of this private collector to return our priceless treasures to their homeland,” stressed H.E. Phoeurng Sackona.

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press

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