US authorities have spearheaded another breakthrough in ongoing efforts to return looted Khmer artefacts home to the Kingdom, with 27 more pieces, worth an estimated $2.4 million, set to land in Cambodia in the near future.

The New York Attorney General's Office formally returned the 27 pieces to the care of the Kingdom at an April 19 ceremony in New York, the US. In attendance were Mao Tithiarun, Chargé d’affaires of Cambodia to the UN, Keo Chhea, Cambodian ambassador to the US, and Serei Chumneas, secretary of state of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.

Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York shared his pleasure at the successful return of the precious works of art.

“For years, the 27 artefacts repatriated today were in the hands and on the shelves of people and institutions that saw nothing beyond the price tag and status behind their illicit or ill-intentioned ownership,” he said.

“Through the work of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Art, and Antiquities Group and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, today we are able to take a small step in righting the wrongs of history’s most prolific traffickers,” he added.

It is unclear when the pieces are due to arrive home in Cambodia.

Andy Brouwer, a historian and art researcher, noted that the collection included a stunning 7th-century Harihara. The piece was recovered in 2012 from the infamous Indian-US art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who remains in prison in India for smuggling historical artefacts, pending extradition to the US, where he will face further charges.

The looting of Cambodia’s sacred temples, in the dead of night or under the cover of the fog of war by unscrupulous thieves, took place over many decades up until the 2000s. Most of the stone and bronze images of the gods made their way onto the international art market in the US, Europe and Asia.

Upon reaching these markets, they were sold into secretive private collections, museums, art galleries and auction houses.

“Khmer art was so highly regarded that a single stone statue could fetch up to $2 million. Now, a host of museums are investigating their own collections to assess the history of individual objects, with some already returning Khmer artworks such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Denver Art Museum,” said Brouwer.

He explained that more than 100 museums worldwide hold Khmer antiquities in their collections, though it is likely a larger percentage of Angkorian artefacts are hidden away from prying eyes in private collections.

A selection of the precious artefacts, which were looted by unscrupulous dealers during the Kingdom's turbulent past, and will now be returned to their rightful home, in the embrace of the Khmer people. Cambodian embassy Washington, DC.

“Recent repatriations of large private hoards in the USA and UK provide an indication of where these can be found. Public auctions of Khmer art are still taking place today, but experts suggest that most of the pieces are modern reproductions,” he added.

He said that thanks to the diligent investigation and positive cooperation by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the Cambodia restitution team with international law enforcement entities, such as HSI in the US, there has been a seismic shift in the return and repatriation of Khmer Empire antiquities in recent years.

“Many thousands of stone, bronze and gold works of art were illegally looted from the Kingdom’s sacred temples from the 1950s through to the 2000s, but that trend has now been reversed and in the past few years, Cambodia’s unstinting efforts and numerous successes have been a shining example to other countries seeking the return of their stolen cultural treasures,” he added.

He noted that the media, both local and international, has also supported Cambodia’s efforts, highlighting the successful returns and creating a positive feel-good image of the Kingdom worldwide.

“There is still a lot more work to be done to recover from those dark years, but the signs are very positive,” he added.