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Pictured are some of the sculptures and artefacts retrieved in Thailand.
Pictured are some of the sculptures and artefacts retrieved in Thailand. BANGKOK POST

Thailand to return recovered artefacts

Thailand announced on Friday that it will repatriate 16 Cambodian artefacts recovered from smugglers in 1999, according to Cambodia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Twenty other objects from the same group of seized goods could also be repatriated if further investigations conclusively find they are Cambodian, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said at the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation in Siem Reap.

In 2009, Thailand repatriated seven scultpures from the same 1999 seizure.

Thailand did not specify when the 16 latest objects might be returned, however, and provided no details as to the types of artefacts or from where in Cambodia they were initially stolen.

“We don’t know how old they are or what the objects are, as we have not seen them yet,” said Kong Vireak, director of the National Museum.

The repatriation announcement comes months after Cambodia had no luck in requesting access to another store of antiquities that were formerly hoarded by a disgraced Thai central intelligence bureau chief. The more recently seized trove is believed to include tens of thousands of Buddhist and Hindu statues, reliefs and figurines.

“Until now, we have not been to Thailand to see any of the objects,” Vireak said, added that he hopes Cambodian experts will be permitted to jointly assess the remaining items’ authenticity.

The repatriation announcement comes months after Cambodia had no luck in requesting access to another store of antiquities that were reportedly hoarded by a disgraced Thai central intelligence bureau chief.

Few of the tens of thousands of cultural objects seized from Police Lieutenant Pongpat Chayapan’s alleged crime syndicate have so far been identified. Initial surveys of the inventory in November found that the majority are likely replicas, while a small handful of genuine items could date back 1,400 years and originate in Cambodia’s Phnom Da, the Thai Arts Department director-general said at a press conference in Bangkok after the items were seized.

In addition to artworks smuggled from neighbouring countries, the millions of baht worth of assets recovered from the syndicate's numerous stash houses reportedly include stacks of cash, luxury timber, animal skins and ivory tusks.

Over the past two years, Cambodia has received a spate of high-profile antiquities repatriations, including from auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as an unprecedented voluntary return from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the 16 artefacts set to be returned to Cambodia were related to antiquities seized as part of the investigation into former Thai police chief Pongpat Chayapan. In fact, the items came from a group of 43 objects seized in 1999.
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