A group of Cambodian artifacts donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a disgraced British antiquities dealer are looted, Cambodian government officials said.
The allegations were first reported by the New York Times, which quoted Cambodian officials saying that some of these objects were looted starting in the ’80s. Several of the 13 artifacts in question were donated to the museum by Douglas A. Latchford, who was charged in 2019 with selling artifacts with falsified provenance. Cambodia believes these artifacts should be reviewed by the Met with the goal of repatriation.
Last year, officials from the museum met with federal prosecutors in New York after multiple outlets published investigations into the Pandora Papers, a leaked tranche of documents about offshore tax havens. Those documents include information about Latchford, who died in 2020, and his business.
In 2021, a complaint was filed by Manhattan’s Federal District Court over a Cambodian Khmer sculpture connected to Latchford that was in the Met’s collection.
The Met says it has long returned 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.
But Cambodian officials told the Times that documents uncovered on Latchford’s computer may contain information about the Met’s vetting process for the artifacts. Included in the documentation, Cambodian officials have said, are details regarding Latchford’s professional connection to Martin Lerner, the Met’s former Asian Art curator, who reportedly worked with the dealer to obtain some of the artifacts that may have been looted.
Lerner told the Times, “Knowing what I know now, I should probably not have worked so closely with Mr. Latchford.”
A number of artifacts that passed through Latchford’s hands are beginning to make their way back to Cambodia. In February, after a three-year-long negotiation period, Latchford’s daughter repatriated his $50 million collection of Khmer antiquities, which are suspected to contain looted and smuggled works. Last year, a group of nearly 30 artifacts, many of them with Cambodian origins, that collector and tech mogul James H. Clark acquired from Latchford were slated to be returned after Clark was approached by investigators.
Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, told the Times in a statement that the government has requested information and research from the Met about the disputed artifacts. A representative for the Met told the Times in a statement that the museum has already shared provenance records with Cambodian officials and is in “close dialogue” about developments in their research.
A Met spokesperson did not immediately respond to ARTnews request for additional comment.