The Met Agrees to Repatriate Artifacts to Cambodia as Douglas Latchford Fallout Continues

The museum will return 14 artifacts dating back to 600s C.E.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to repatriate a Buddha head to Cambodia as part of the ongoing investigation into former dealer Douglas Latchford.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has agreed to repatriate 14 artifacts to Cambodia and two to Thailand as part of the ongoing federal investigation into the late dealer Douglas Latchford.

Latchford, a well known collector and dealer of Cambodian antiquities, was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan in 2019 for masterminding a plot to illegally sell the looted artifacts. He had been under investigation by federal authorities since at least 2012 and has been described as running a “vast antiquities trafficking network” in southeast Asia.

He died in August 2020 before he could be convicted, but investigators with Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York continue efforts to repatriate items linked to Latchford.

The items from the Met date back to the Khmer Empire. They include artifacts such as a larger-than-life bust of Buddha’s head from the 600s C.E. and a sandstone statue of a goddess from the 900s C.E. The other works are predominantly of the deities Avalokiteshvara, Shiva and Uma.

Erin Keegan, acting special agent in charge for HSI, called the items “shamelessly stolen,” and praised the Met for recognizing their significance. Authorities said 13 works would be repatriated to Cambodia while the museum said 14 would be. The museum has clarified that the agreement is to repatriate 13 works to Cambodia but said it has identified an additional Cambodian artifact and two from Thailand for repatriation.

Authorities provided a copy of the agreement with the Met, which notes how the museum reached out to federal prosecutors in September 2021 to express willingness to cooperate with the investigation after learning of the indictment against Latchford.

“The Met has been diligently working with Cambodia and the U.S. 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.

Hollein added that the museum is committed to partnerships that “advance the world’s understanding and appreciation of Khmer art.”

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said he hopes his office can continue to work with the museum on such issues, praising them for deciding to cooperate and urging other institutions to follow suit.

“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: come forward and work with us on a voluntary basis to facilitate the return to the rightful owners,” Williams said. “That is a far better outcome for you and your institution than if our investigation leads to a knock on your door.”

Last year, a reformed smuggler told Cambodian authorities that he believed at least 33 artifacts are in the Met’s collection. With the 14 in the process of repatriation, it remains unclear how many looted artifacts from Cambodia remain.

Others have also made efforts to repatriate Cambodian works tied to Latchford, whether purely voluntarily or under pressure from authorities.

In September, the family of billionaire collector George Lindemann agreed to voluntarily return 33 antiquities that had entered the family’s collection from Latchford. Two additional items bought by Lindemann from Latchford were given to The Met. It is unclear if those items were included in the 14 to be repatriated.

The National Gallery of Australia said in August that it would return three statues to Cambodia which had been bought from Latchford in 2011. And the Cambodian Culture Ministry said in February that Latchford’s family agreed to return traditional jewelry it still had in its possession.

Latchford client James H. Clark returned $35 million worth of antiquities to Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Thailand in 2022. And in November 2021, the Denver Art Museum agreed to voluntarily repatriate four Cambodian antiquities, including three Khmer sandstone sculptures.


More Trending Stories:

Artists to Watch This Month: 10 Solo Gallery Exhibitions to See In New York Before the End of the Year

Art Dealers Christina and Emmanuel Di Donna on Their Special Holiday Rituals

Stefanie Heinze Paints Richly Ambiguous Worlds. Collectors Are Obsessed

Inspector Schachter Uncovers Allegations Regarding the Latest Art World Scandal—And It’s a Doozy

Archaeologists Call Foul on the Purported Discovery of a 27,000-Year-Old Pyramid

The Sprawling Legal Dispute Between Yves Bouvier and Dmitry Rybolovlev Is Finally Over



Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics