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Metropolitan Museum To Return Khmer Artifacts To Thailand And Cambodia

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that they will return 16 Khmer artifacts to Cambodia and Thailand.

The artifacts were one of the numerous works once sold by disgraced art dealer Douglas Latchford. The late dealer was convicted in 2019 of being involved in the smuggling of antiquities stolen from mostly South and Southeast Asian countries. Even after his death in 2020, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been working tirelessly in identifying and ensuring the return of the stolen artifacts.

The Met’s announcement came after an agreement was struck between the museum and the US Attorney’s Office for the southern district of New York. As per the agreement, 14 artifacts from the Khmer culture would be returned to Cambodia while 2 others would be returned to Thailand. Most of the artifacts are from the 9th to 14th century period and revolve around the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. Some, like a large Buddha head from the 7th century, are even older.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has not yet announced when exactly they would hand over the objects to the respective authorities. However, they did specify that while the final formalities are being completed, some of the artifacts – like a bronze sculpture of Bodhisattva from the 10th-11th century – would be on display at the southeast Asian centers of the museum. Furthermore, the Met also added that they would be internally reviewing the rest of their Khmer art collection and share relevant information with Thailand and Cambodia.

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Phnombootra Chandrajoti (Director-General, Fine Arts Department, Thailand) called the repatriation deal a ‘significant milestone’ in the repatriation efforts of the country. He said: “In Thailand, the committee for repatriation, chaired by the Cultural Minister, is actively engaged in research initiatives to identify and track down additional objects that may have been illegally removed from the country in the past, further paving the way for a future where cultural heritage is preserved and valued in its rightful place.”