The Metropolitan to Return Pieces to Cambodia

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York Agreed to Return 14 Pieces to Cambodia as Douglas Latchford Fallout Continues.

Dec 18, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The museum. Via archive


The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art decided to return 14 antiquities to Cambodia. Also, the institution needs to return two more pieces to Thailand. The repatriation is taking place as a component of the current government inquiry concerning the deceased trader Douglas Latchford. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an indictment against Latchford in 2019. He was an acclaimed trader and collector of ancient Cambodian items.


Pieces at the Metropolitan “shamelessly stolen”

Douglas Latchford, The Metropolitan
Two objects from Douglas Latchford’s collection being repatriated to Cambodia. courtesy of the Royal Government of Cambodia.



The Manhattan Attorney Office filed an indictment for organising a scheme to sell the stolen artefacts illegally. Federal officials are looking into him from at least 2012. Also, the authorities described his is leading “vast antiquities trafficking network” in Southeast Asia. August 2020 saw his death before he could be found guilty. But, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York and Homeland Security Investigations detectives are still working to recover objects connected to Latchford.


The antiquities on display at the museum stretch back to the Khmer Empire. Among the items are relics, like a massive statue of the Buddha‘s head from the 600s C.E. Also, there is a sandstone statue of a goddess from the 900s C.E. The other pieces mostly feature the gods Shiva, Uma, and Avalokiteshvara. Erin Keegan, acting special agent in charge for HSI, described the pieces as “shamelessly stolen”.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Via Artnet.


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He also commended the Met for realising how important they were. Officials indicated 13 items would be returned to Cambodia, while the museum said 14 would. The arrangement is to return 13 masterpieces to Cambodia, the museum explained. The museum also stated they found two more artefacts from Thailand and one from Cambodia that they need to return.


On Latchford’s Indictment

braque bottle collage
Bottle, Glass, and Newspaper by Georges Braque, 1914, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Authorities submitted a duplicate of their contract with the institution. The body also describes how, in September 2021, the museum contacted federal attorneys. It also declared their readiness to assist with the inquiry upon discovering Latchford’s indictment. “The Met has been diligently working with Cambodia and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for years to resolve questions regarding these works of art”, said Max Hollein, the museum’s director.


He also added: “There are new information that arose from this process, and made it clear that we should initiate the return of this group of sculptures.” The museum is dedicated to collaborations that “promote the global understanding and appreciation of Khmer art“, Hollein continued.


weight frog babylonian
Frog Shaped Weight, Babylonian, 2000-1600 BCE. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


“If you work at one of these institutions or for a private collection and have concerns that certain pieces may be tied to illicit trafficking, do the right thing: come forward and work with us on a voluntary basis to facilitate the return to the rightful owners”, Williams said. “That is a far better outcome for you and your institution than if our investigation leads to a knock on your door”.












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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.