The Cambodian government has asked one of the members of the United States’ Cultural Property Advisory Committee – charged with considering the extension of an agreement restricting Cambodian artefacts’ import into the US – to recuse herself due to a potential conflict of interest, The New York Times reported on Friday.
Committee member Jane Levine is also senior vice president and worldwide compliance director for Sotheby’s auction house, which is involved in a legal battle with the US Attorneys’ Office on behalf of the Cambodian government for an Angkorian statue of the mythic Duryodhana warrior.
Last year, Levine told the Times and the Associated Press that Cambodia had not demonstrated the Duryodhana was stolen, nor when it was removed from Cambodia.
The agreement the committee will consider for renewal in a days long meeting to take place late this month applies only to objects that may have left Cambodia after a 1999 import restriction and so would not limit the import of artefacts like the Duryodhana, which was in London by 1975.
Nevertheless, Sotheby’s has said Levine will not attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict, though it has not stated whether Levine was involved in other meetings about the MoU, the Times reported.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment; Ministry of Culture officials could not be reached.
“Cambodia cannot preserve its cultural heritage on its own,” says a submission to the US committee from the Documentation Center of Cambodia, dated February 5.
“We hope that your committee will renew the import restrictions on archeological material from Cambodia.
“In a country where the more than 50 per cent of people live on less than $2 a day, incentives to sell artifacts are high,” the submission adds.
“Many have pointed to the Import Restrictions as playing a significant role in the preservation of Angkor Wat and the surrounding complex.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at [email protected]