A leading expert on Khmer antiquities, Douglas A. J. Latchford, was charged with smuggling of looted Cambodian relics and using falsified documentation to conceal their tainted histories in order to sell them on the international art market.
Latchford, 88, is considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on Southeast Asian art, is accused of carrying out a long-running “fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States.” Douglas Latchford has provided Cambodian antiquities to major museums, dealers, and auction houses.
Latchford is a dual citizen of the UK and Thailand. He also goes by the Thai name Pakpong Kriangsak. Prosecutors accused him of persistently concealing the fact that the artifacts were “the product of looting, unauthorized excavation, and illicit smuggling.” He created false provenance histories, invoices, and shipping documents for the pieces.
The indictment said that throughout his lengthy career, which spanned across four decades, Latchford continued to act as a channel for looting Cambodian antiquities. It was in the early 1970s, that he began supplying looted Khmer antiquities to an unidentified auction house in the UK. In 2010, one of the pieces that Langford sold to the UK auctioneer Sotheby’s was put up for sale. When Latchford was asked to help verify the provenance of the piece, a 10th-century stone figure called the Duryodhana. He said he obtained the figure in London in 1970. However, prosecutors charged him for illegally smuggling it from Cambodia in 1972. Latchford then backed off, claiming he had never owned the Duryodhana at all.
The Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage:
Cambodia enacted the Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, at the beginning of 1996. The law forbade the excavation, looting, and improper export of antiquities, declaring “movable cultural property found by chance” to be the property of the Cambodian public. Cambodia is also an authorized signatory to multiple international cultural protection agreements. The US restricted the imports of Cambodian antiquities in 1999. The US investigators uncovered certain emails between Latchford and his associates, which revealed multiple instances of purported wrongdoing.
Latchford sent an email to a dealer in 2006 marking “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL ——– FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.” A picture was attached with the email of a bronze head Latchford said, “Was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines!! What price would you be interested in buying it at? Let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”
To hide the origins of his looted pieces, Latchford is said to have forged letters of provenance from an uninformed art collector who was not a part of his schemes, claiming he acquired them in the late 1960s. He frequently said that the pieces were from the UK or Laos, rather than Cambodia, and described them as figures from the 17th or 18th century, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are saying that Latchford is residing in Thailand. It is unclear if they will attempt to extradite Latchford, who is reportedly in poor health, to the US. If convicted on all counts, Latchford will face nearly 30 years in prison.