Sydney, Australia, Aug 3 (EFE).- The National Gallery of Australia announced Thursday that it will return three sculptures more than 1,000 years old from its Asian art collection that it believes were looted from Cambodia and sold by a notorious British art dealer.
The three bronze pieces, dating from the 9th and 10th centuries, are part of Cambodia’s cultural heritage from the Cham Kingdom, according to a statement by the NGA.
The gallery, which bought the artifacts from antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford in 2011 for AU$2.3 million ($1.5 million), decided to return them after a decade-long investigation in collaboration with Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to determine their place of origin, it added.
“This is an historic occasion and an important step towards rectifying past injustices, reinforcing the value of cultural properties, and acknowledging the importance of preserving and protecting cultural heritage,” Cambodia’s ambassador to Australia Chanborey Cheunboran said.
Following the investigation into these pieces, in which Latchford’s daughter Nawapan Kriangsak collaborated, Australia and Cambodia agreed that the three sculptures will remain at the NGA for three years until their repatriation.
Cambodia has increased its efforts in recent years to recover its antiquities, which were looted during the civil conflicts of late 20th century, from around the world.
Latchford, who had claimed for years that he saved many sculptures and artifacts from being destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), was charged in 2019 by New York prosecutors with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities.
“As alleged, Latchford built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often straight from archeological sites, in the international art market,” United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in the indictment.
The dealer died the following year in Thailand, where he had resided, before reaching trial.
In addition to the NGA, it is believed that some of the works sold by Latchford also ended up in institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum.
Since 1996, more than 600 Khmer works have been recovered by Cambodia from countries including the US, Japan, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, and China. EFE