An intelligence officer from Cambodia’s military police was detained by authorities in Thailand on Saturday evening on suspicion of involvement in looting antiquities, after allegedly crossing the border with three Cambodian Buddhist statues.
Soeun Oeun, 38, who is stationed in Battambang province, had reportedly crossed the border in the Thma Puok district of Banteay Meanchey province when he was stopped and searched by Thai soldiers.
According to Banteay Meanchey military police deputy commander Lieutenant Colonel Men Phirum, the Thai soldiers found the three statues in the back of the car Oeun was driving.
“Thai soldiers kept hold of the three statues but have handed over the suspect and his car to Cambodian authorities,” Phirum said yesterday.
Thma Puok district police chief Major Bun Sophath yesterday said that Oeun is currently being questioned at a police facility near the Cambodia-Thailand border. Sophath said negotiations were also underway with Thai authorities to arrange the return of the artifacts.
Looting of artefacts is an ongoing problem for Cambodia, with corrupt officials often linked to the criminal activity.
The United States is currently negotiating the return of recently seized antiquities worth an estimated $3 million, while in December 2013, Sotheby’s was forced to agree to hand back a stolen statue due for auction that was valued at $2 million.