After Pandora Papers revelations, Denver art museum to return four artifacts looted from Cambodia

The Denver Art Museum will return four ancient artifacts stolen from Cambodia following revelations in leaked Pandora documents that exposed indicted antiques dealer Douglas Latchford’s overseas dealings.

Released earlier this month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Pandora Papers uncovered 11.9 million documents that expose overseas dealings and hidden assets of wealthy individuals ranging from world leaders to celebrities and business leaders. The leaked documents include offshore trusts owned by Latchford, a British antiques dealer who was charged with trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian artefacts by the US Department of Justice in 2019. According to the indictment, Latchford has used fake export licenses, fake invoices and fake letters of provenance provided by a “fake collector”. The alleged trafficker died last year before his trial and the case was later dropped.

A survey conducted by the Washington Postpublished on October 5, traced 27 antiquities sold by Latchford to major art institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.

the To post reported that the Denver Art Museum had removed the four artifacts from its collection after receiving a letter seeking comment from the ICIJ on October 9. The museum’s decision to return the objects was first reported by the Colorado Sun.

In an email to Hyperallergic, the museum said it contacted officials in Cambodia to “gather additional information on the four pieces from that country” immediately after Latchford was indicted in 2019.

“The museum has had conversations with the US and Cambodian governments regarding these items and their return since then,” a museum spokesperson wrote. “As part of the process, the four Cambodian works associated with Latchford were removed from the museum’s collection in September, and the museum is currently working with the government to return the pieces to Cambodia.”

Looted artifacts include sandstone statues and bronze busts from the Khmer Empire, which flourished from the 9th century to the 15th century. One of the pieces is a sandstone Prajnaparamita, the goddess of transcendent wisdom, which was acquired by the museum in 2000. A now archived web page for the statue (retrieved by the To post using the Wayback Machine) says it was “purchased in honor of Emma C. Bunker”, an antiquities scholar who co-authored three books with Latchford.

The museum told Hyperallergic that it is also conducting research on the two Thai objects acquired from Latchford: an 18th Where 19th century cabinet and Neolithic vase.

The Chasing Aphrodite blog warned of Cambodian artifacts looted from the Denver Art Museum’s collection in 2012.

“In short, in recent years the Denver Art Museum has acquired several Cambodian antiques with little or no documented ownership history – let alone evidence of legal export – from a man now at the center of a federal investigation into looting,” the blog read. “For many of these objects, the only documented history was a book written by Latchford himself.”

As the Denver museum prepares to return the looted Cambodian pieces to their country of origin, the Metropolitan Museum told Hyperallergic that it is “currently reviewing the pieces” that came to its collection through Latchford and his associates.

“As we continue our research, we will engage with the Cambodian government as necessary, as we have had a strong and productive partnership with their cultural leaders in the past,” the museum added.

Mildred D. Field