The federal government moved this week to seize 35 Cambodian and Southeast Asian antiquities belonging to an indicted art dealer — including a sculpture that previously sat in a Denver art museum.
The objects in question were sold by Douglas Latchford to a private collector, who in 2019 accused federal prosecutors of running a year-long plan to sell looted relics on the international art market, one of the world’s largest private collections of Khmer antiquities collected one. Alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Latchford died in 2020 before the trial.
Federal prosecutors alleged in the complaint, “Latchford sold the collection to its current owner … with false statements and forged proven documents to hide the fact that the antiquities were the product of loot, and then over customs paperwork.” Imported antiquities through lies.”
Court documents do not name the collector, but the New York Times on Wednesday identified the man as James H. Clark, who co-founded Netscape, one of the earliest web browsers, in 1994.
Clark spent about $35 million on the art collection, he told The Times, although the pieces are now worth far more. Investigators convinced him to give it all back, he said, in the hope that it might inspire others to do the same.
“As a gullible person,” Clark told the newspaper, “I had apparently somewhat inadvertently acquired one of the best private collections of Cambodian antiquities.”
One of these remains includes a late 12th-century Bayon-style sandstone statue depicting the eight-armed Avalokiteshvara. When Latchford sold the sculpture to Clark around 2003, it was on loan to the Denver Art Museum, where Latchford’s colleague – referred to simply as “The Scholar” in court documents – served as a volunteer research consultant. worked in, prosecutors said.
Latchford told the Denver Art Museum that the piece was obtained from a person known as a “false collector”, according to the complaint—someone that the art dealer would use to create the objects’ origins so that they could be sold on the open market. to be sold in Without any fear of robbery.
A Denver Art Museum spokesperson said in an email that the sculpture was on loan to the museum from February 2001 to December 2003.
“The museum was not a party to the acquisition or sale of this piece, and there are no details about those transactions,” museum spokeswoman Christy Basuener said in an email.
As part of the sale, prosecutors allege, Latchford provided the private collector with a letter from this “false collector” stating that the person acquired the sculpture from Vietnam between 1964 and 1966. Was.
But before and after the sale of this sculpture and other objects, Latchford “strongly implied” a man – known in the complaint as the “decorator” – that he himself had acquired the objects at the time of excavation from Cambodia. did.
“This office continues to locate and recover the many stolen cultural treasures that Douglas Latchford sold and scattered away from his home countries,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release announcing the seizure. “Through this action, the United States reaffirms its commitment to redress the wrongs committed by Latchford and other robbers who will and will benefit from the pain and disruption of war.”
The Cambodian government has in recent years been aggressively scouting for cultural items around the world that have been preserved in their centuries-old historical sites during Pol Pot’s dictatorial rule in the 1970s and the decades of civil war and turmoil that followed. was robbed from
Authorities believe that Latchford was one of the most serious criminals. An investigation of the “Pandora Papers” in October revealed that many museums from Denver to Great Britain to Australia still count Latchford’s objects as part of their collections, and that looted antiquities in subsequent months There has been pressure to bring it back.
In November the Denver Art Museum voluntarily discarded four Cambodian remains belonging to Latchford after federal prosecutors demanded their seizure. Officials previously said Latchford had repeatedly lied to the museum about the provenance — or ownership history — of other items by the art dealer selling the museum.
Latchford had a well-known Colorado colleague named Emma Bunker, who was affiliated with the Denver Art Museum for 40 years before her death last year, serving on the museum’s board of trustees and helping secure lecturers and speakers as a volunteer. Was getting it done. The two wrote three books together in pursuit of Khmer art and enjoyed a friendship of 30 years.
The New York Times reported in 2017 that Manhattan prosecutors had involved him as “co-conspirator No. 2” in a scheme – along with Latchford – to falsify the documentary history of looted Cambodian remains of a prominent New York gallery owner. To help.
Bunker was never charged with the crime and was not named in Tuesday’s civil complaint.