Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Artefact is seized from American auctioneers



Artefact is seized from American auctioneers

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An ancient Cambodian artefact was found during an investigation. ICE

Artefact is seized from American auctioneers

Cambodian and US archaeologists on Thursday discussed the formalities and procedures of returning to Cambodia an artefact which was recently seized by US Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) from an auction house in San Francisco.

On Monday, the HSI said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and HSI San Francisco special agent David Keller, assisted by HSI New York special agent John Paul Labbat, seized a Cambodian artefact put up for auction in the bay area of San Francisco on September 12.

Its report said: “An ancient Cambodian sandstone sculpture was described as a Shiva and Uma statue dating back to 921-945 AD and valued at approximately $350,000.”

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ Heritage Department director-general Prak Sovannara told The Post on Thursday that Cambodian specialists are now contacting culture experts at the US embassy in Phnom Penh to discuss procedures to return the artefact.

“We are really happy with efforts from the US side. They have always helped us search for and seize our ancient Cambodian artefacts from the hands of dishonest traders and return them to the Cambodian government,” he said.

However, Cambodian and US specialists are yet to be sure if the statue dates back to 921-945 AD or whether it is genuine or a replica.

The Ministry of Culture’s head of archaeology Heng Kamsan, who participated in the talks, said: “We are very excited to receive information and a photo from the US side on Wednesday.

“The photo indicates that the statue seized by their special agents from the auction house is an ancient cultural object with roots in our Khmer culture since early times,” he said.

Kamsan said on Thursday that specialists from the two countries had agreed to carry out carbon-14 dating on the Shiva and Uma statue.

This, he said, will make it easier to research and compile documents on its age and other data. He also expressed hope that the procedures to return the statue to the Kingdom will begin as soon as possible.

A report said the artefact was discovered during an ongoing HSI New York investigation dubbed “Indochinese Peninsula Plunder” in the Southern District of New York.

The investigation focused on the smuggling activities of Douglas Latchford, a private collector linked to numerous looted Cambodian antiquities.

The report said the statue was originally purchased by a private collector in California. It was put up for sale at a prominent San Francisco auction house following the collector’s death in 2015.

“It will be returned to the Cambodian people at the conclusion of this HSI-led investigation,” the report said.

The HSI had conducted multiple investigations and recovered looted artefacts which had been trafficked from several countries in Southeast Asia during eras of conflict throughout the 20th century.

HSI San Francisco and HSI New York had collaborated on multiple investigations linking antiquities dealers to a criminal network involved in looting artefacts from Southeast Asia, many of which had been found in museums and collections throughout the US.

The HSI is the largest investigative component of the US Department of Homeland Security. Among its numerous investigative programmes, the HSI conducts criminal investigations that involve the illicit trafficking of cultural property and art.

The HSI has a global reach through its 77 offices in 51 countries and works closely with foreign governments to conduct investigations.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of