Cambodia Believes the Metropolitan Museum of Art Has Stolen Artifacts in Its Collection

·2 min read
Lorina Capitulo/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Lorina Capitulo/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Cambodian officials say that they are certain that several of 13 Cambodian artifacts donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by businessman Douglas A.J. Latchford, beginning in 1983, were stolen, according to the New York Times.

Last July, a complaint was filed by Manhattan’s Federal District Court related to a Cambodian Khmer sandstone sculpture connected to Latchford that’s in the Met’s collection.

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Later that year, officials from the Met met with members of the U.S. attorney’s office to talk about the possibility that Cambodian artifacts in their collection had been stolen.

The Met says it has long been in the practice of returning looted artifacts in its collection to their countries of origin, and that information has been shared with Cambodian officials when artifact provenances have been updated.

However, Cambodian officials told the Times that they’ve uncovered documents that call into question how thoroughly the Met vetted objects before acquiring them; specifically, they point to documents found on Latchford’s computer after his death in 2020 that Latchford was vouched for as a client by Martin Lerner, the Met’s former Asian Art curator. The Daily Beast reached out to the Met for comment.

“We have not asked the Met to take on any burdensome task,” Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, told the Times in a statement. “Rather we have only requested the precise information and research that the Met declares to the public and in its policies and procedures that it already has obtained on every cultural property from another country before accepting it into the museum.”

In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, a Met spokesperson wrote: “The Met is closely following these recent developments, and we are in active dialogue with Cambodia. We have shared our provenance with Cambodia’s representative; and we have requested that Cambodia share any new, relevant information it has recently obtained. Our Museum has a long history of evaluating cultural property claims, and where appropriate returning objects based upon rigorous evidentiary review.”

In January, 35 mostly-Cambodian items in the collection of Silicon Valley art collector James H. Clark that he’d obtained with the aid of Latchford were slated to be returned to their countries of origin after the collector came to the conclusion that they had likely been stolen, after being shown photos of similar trafficked artifacts by investigators.

Latchford, who was officially charged with illegally smuggling and selling Cambodian artifacts, previously defended his activities in 2013 by saying that he traded Cambodian items that would have otherwise been “shot up for target practice.”

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