Representatives of the international auction house Sotheby’s said in a filing last Monday they had found one key flaw in the case to repatriate a highly valuable Angkorean-era sculpture: the statue wasn’t stolen in the first place.
In the filing, obtained yesterday, lawyers for Sotheby’s maintain the modern Cambodian government never had a legal claim to the 10th-century statue ofthe mythic Hindu warrior Duryodhana,allegedly taken from the Koh Ker temple complex during the Cambodian civil war.
On behalf of Cambodia, the US attorney’s office has been seeking the return of the $3 million statue since April.
“The [proposed amended complaint] claims a Cambodian king a thousand years ago built the Prasat Chen temple where the statue’s feet were allegedly found, and asserts that the statue – and anything else from Prasat Chen, no matter when or where found – therefore automatically belongs to the modern Cambodian state,” the Sotheby’s filing reads.
“No court has ever forfeited property on such a far-fetched theory,” it later added.
In September, a US judge seemingly expressed his own doubts about the claim of Cambodian ownership, saying it was not legally “established by clearand unambiguous language”, a point seized on in Sotheby’s filing.
“There is no law at all, much less a clear and unambiguous one, declaring that . . . the modern state of Cambodia now owns everything from Pursat Chenthat was abandoned to the jungle 50 generations ago,” it maintains.
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