Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security’s (“HSI”) New York Field Office, announced today the filing of a civil lawsuit seeking the confiscation of 35 Cambodian and South Asian antiquities from a private US collection with the aim of returning the antiquities to their country of origin. Antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford sold the collection to its current owner (the “collector”) with false statements and false provenance documents intended to hide the fact that the antiquities were the product of looting, then imported antiques by lying on customs documents. The collector voluntarily relinquished possession of the antiquities.
US Attorney Damian Williams said: ‘This office continues to track down and recover the many stolen cultural treasures that Douglas Latchford sold and dispersed far from their country of origin. Through this action, the United States reaffirms its commitment to right the wrongs committed by Latchford and other raiders who would exploit and profit from the pain and disruption of war.
Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York, said, “For years, Douglas Latchford ran an illegitimate business of smuggling looted antiquities into the United States in blatant disregard of US customs laws. Latchford facilitated this by falsifying customs documents and supplying deceptive documents to collectors to sell on the international art market. Today, we are happy to see that 35 cultural properties will be repatriated to their rightful location. HSI New York will not stop in its efforts to locate all antiquities linked to the Latchford Fraud and will ensure that every piece of history is not only found, but returned home.
According to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court on January 7, 2022:
The United States of America is seeking the forfeiture of 34 antiquities that Latchford sold to the Collector between 2003 or circa 2007 and 2007 or circa 2007 (the “Defendants in Rem”). Defendants in Rem are bronze and sandstone sculptures and artifacts originating from Southeast Asian countries, primarily Cambodia, but also India, Myanmar, and Thailand. They include a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha from Koh Ker, an ancient capital of the Khmer Empire; and bronze sculptures from around Angkor Wat. Latchford sold the Rem defendants to the collector as part of a scheme to sell looted antiquities on the international art market. The defendants in the Rem case were either unlawfully expelled from their home country; imported into the United States based on misrepresentation to United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), or both.
Over the years, Latchford lied and withheld information from the tax collector in order to conceal that the Rem defendants had been robbed, and provided the tax collector with false provenance documents and false information about the origin of some of the Rem defendants. . After Latchford sold the defendants to Rem, many of them were then illegally imported into the United States based on false statements made by Latchford to CBP and others.
In 2019, Latchford was indicted in the Southern District of New York for conspiracy to wire fraud and other crimes related to a years-long scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiques on the international art market, primarily by creating fakes. provenance documents and falsifying invoices and shipping documents. , including misrepresentation of the country of origin of artwork. See United States vs. Latchford, 19 Cr. 748 (TA) (the “Indictment”). In September 2020, the indictment was dismissed due to Latchford’s death.
In 2021, an HSI agent contacted the collector about the defendants in Rem. The tax collector quickly cooperated with government investigations and allowed the government to inspect the defendants in Rem. After the Recoverer learned more about the history of Latchford and the Rem Defendants, including evidence that the Rem Defendants were illegally looted and/or illegally imported into the United States, the Recoverer voluntarily waived the possession of the defendants to Rem so that they can be repatriated to their country of origin.
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Mr. Williams thanked HSI for its outstanding work on this investigation, which he noted is ongoing, and commended its continued efforts to locate and repatriate stolen and looted cultural property. Mr. Williams also thanked the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia for their assistance in this investigation.
This case is handled by the Bureau’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant US Attorney Jessica Feinstein is in charge of the case.
The allegations contained in the complaint are only accusations.