The Family of Billionaire Collector George Lindemann Has Returned $20 Million Worth of Looted Antiquities to Cambodia

The precious antiquities were discovered by Cambodian investigators thanks to a 2008 photo spread in 'Architectural Digest.'

Three of the Angkor Thom Heads. Photo courtesy of United States Attorney's Office Southern District of New York.

In a new win for the Cambodian government’s ongoing mission to reclaim its looted cultural heritage, the family of billionaire collector George Lindemann has agreed to voluntarily return 33 antiquities. The works first came to light when Cambodian investigators spotted them in an Architectural Digest feature about Lindemann’s Palm Beach home from 2008. They were repatriated at an official handover ceremony yesterday.

“The return sets an excellent and proper example for other museums and private collectors to follow,” Cambodia’s culture minister, Phoeurng Sackona, told the New York Times.

Among the pieces are sacred deities that would have once adorned shrines and temples, some of which date back over 1,000 years to the Khmer Empire. Lindemann, who made his fortune in oil and gas, is believed to have spent at least $20 million acquiring these the treasures over the course of several decades.

After Lindemann died in 2018, at the age of 82, the objects passed on to his heirs. A scandal erupted last year after it was revealed that three looted Cambodian stone heads had been photoshopped out of photos of his daughter Sloan Lindemann Barnett’s $42 million San Francisco mansion, the unedited versions of which had appeared in another Architectural Digest photospread in 2021.

George Lindemann and Frayda Lindemann in 2009. Photo by Ben Gabbe, ©Patrick McMullan.

George Lindemann and Frayda Lindemann in 2009. Photo by Ben Gabbe, ©Patrick McMullan.

Some speculated that the precious items may have been removed from the images in 2022 because it had been proven by then that they were looted. Emails sent by Douglas Latchford, the disgraced dealer of smuggled goods, explicitly reference the heads and admits “these were all stolen,” according to the Washington Post. There is no indication that the Lindemanns were aware of this.

Revelations like these had come to light as part of a major investigation into the Lindemann collection of Cambodian artifacts that publicly appeared in the 2008 Architectural Digest feature. This was carried out by U.S. officials acting on behalf of the Cambodian government.

Ex-looters aided the investigation by sharing extensive intel to help track down items that were smuggled out of Cambodia from remote temples, often before they could be recorded by historians. In this case, an antiquities broker known as “Jungle Cat” was instrumental in identifying works that had entered the Lindemann’s collection via Latchford.

At least two looted Cambodian statues purchased by Lindemann cannot be returned by his family because they were donated to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Cambodian officials reportedly believe that the museum currently possesses at least 33 looted objects thanks to information provided by the ex-looter Toek Tik.

Early last year, tech entrepreneur and Netscape creator James H. Clark, another of Latchford’s clients, returned $35 million worth of Southeast Asian antiquities to Cambodia, India, Myanmar, and Thailand.

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