Denver Art Museum to return artifacts to Cambodia after Pandora Papers expose links to indicted art dealer

Denver Art Museum to return artifacts to Cambodia after Pandora Papers expose links to indicted art dealer
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The Denver Art Museum will return four relics to Cambodia amid revelations that the man who gave it to the museum was charged with trafficking stolen artifacts, an issue that resurfaced amid the Pandora Papers investigation.

In 2019, Douglas Latchford was indicted by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly trafficking goods stolen from the Khmer Empire for decades. More recently, the museum was contacted about the looted goods as part of the Pandora Papers investigation of the offshore holdings of influential figures around the world. The investigation found that 10 museums, including the one in Denver, were in possession of over 40 pieces connected to Latchford or his associates, according to The Washington Post.

The museums were contacted in June about their respective looted goods and received a follow up letter in September from media organizations involved in reporting on the Pandora Papers, the Post noted.

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“The museum is now working with the government to return the pieces to Cambodia,” Kristy Bassuener, a museum spokesperson, said in an email to the Post.

The artifacts in Denver are of "extraordinary cultural significance," Bradley J. Gordon, an attorney for the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told the Post. Gordon added that the museum was contacted after Latchford's 2019 indictment but "did not agree" to return them.

Gordon also requested access to the museum's records of its artifacts from the Khmer Empire but received "no response," per the Post.

The ministry hired Gordon and his team to track down antiquities looted during the Civil War and reign of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.

One relic that will be returned is a prehistoric ball that is likely part of a set of 12. The Post reported that Gordon's team believes Latchford likely owned at least half of the set that was looted from a province north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital.

Another relic that is going back to Cambodia includes a sandstone Prajnaparamita, who is the goddess of transcendent wisdom, for which Latchford provided a conflicting history of ownership when the museum acquired it in 2000. The other relics to be returned are a sun god and a lintel that features images of Hindu gods Vishnu and Brahma, according to the Post.

Other museums indicated they will investigate items in their collections that are associated with Latchford.

The Post noted that The Metropolitan Museum of Art has 12 relics connected to Latchford. Two of the museum's other relics were also returned to Cambodia in 2013. 

"The Met has long been reviewing objects that came into the collection via Douglas Latchford and his associates," the Met said in a statement to the Post. "As we continue our research, we will continue this approach, as is appropriate."

The Hill has reached out to the Denver Art Museum and the Met for comment.