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Dealer of Southeast Asian Antiquities Charged with Trafficking Looted Artifacts

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Courtney Pierce

Center for Art Collection Ethics Graduate Assistant

Elizabeth Campbell

Director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics

Blog  •

As reported in the New York Times, U.S. authorities have charged Douglas A.J. Latchford, an art dealer and expert in Southeast Asian antiquities, with trafficking Cambodian cultural objects. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York detailed the allegations in a November 27 press release. Many of the items in question most likely were illegally smuggled out of Cambodia beginning in the mid-1960s, as the country descended into civil war. 

Douglas A.J. Latchford. Image retrieved from Tang Chhin Sothy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.
Douglas A.J. Latchford. Image retrieved

The U.S. allegations stand in stark contrast to a common positive perception of Latchford in Cambodia. Known by many there as “a protector of the country’s relics,” he has received accolades and a high national honor for his expertise and decades of scholarship. Yet prosecutors contend that Latchford often falsified provenance records to obscure a history of looting and encouraged others to do the same. 

Over the last few decades, looted items from Cambodia have worked their way into U.S. museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Norton Simon Museum, both of which repatriated objects. In 2016, in response to a Cambodian claim, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) agreed to repatriate a 10th century Hindu statue looted from the Koh Ker temple complex. Along with Angkor Wat, Koh Ker has been a frequent target of antiquities looting and is referenced in the Latchford indictment. The statue was purchased in 1986 through the Doris Wiener Gallery in New York, whose owner Nancy Wiener was arrested in 2016 for “illegally obtaining stolen cultural property via international smuggling networks and selling it on the art market by creating false provenance to hide their origins.” DAM director Christoph Heinrich stated that once the museum had been “provided with verifiable evidence that was not available to us at the time of acquisition,” the staff quickly took steps to repatriate the statue. 

At the time of the indictment, Latchford, 88, reportedly was seeking treatment at a hospital in Bangkok and could not be reached for comment.

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