Cambodian Soldier Caught Smuggling Buddhist Statues to Thailand

The looted statues and the smuggler's car Photo: The Phnom Penh Post

A Cambodian military police officer suspected of smuggling antiquities was arrested on Saturday after Thai soldiers found three Cambodian Buddhist statues in his car, Phnom Penh Post reports.

The 38-year-old intelligence official identified as Soeun Oeun was detained by Thai authorities in the Thma Puok district of Banteay Meanchey province.

Lieutenant colonel Men Phirum, Banteay Meanchey military police deputy commander, said that the statues had been discovered in the trunk of Oeun’s car.

“Thai soldiers kept hold of the three statues but have handed over the suspect and his car to Cambodian authorities,” Phirum said.

Thma Puok district police chief major Bun Sopath revealed that Oeun was currently being held for questioning at a police station close to the Cambodia-Thailand border. He also said that the return of the statues was currently being negotiated with Cambodian officials.

Cambodia has struggled to curtail the looting and smuggling of its cultural heritage, with corrupt officials often linked to the criminal activity.

In May 2014, the Cleveland Museum of Art was caught up in a repatriation dispute over allegedly looted artifacts (see Cleveland Museum of Art Says Cambodia Statue Was Not Looted). In June 2014, three looted Cambodian statues were repatriated by the US (see “Indiana Jane” Aids in Stolen Cambodian Statues’ Return).

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