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Is Legendary Antiquities Expert Douglas Latchford a Fraud?
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Is Legendary Antiquities Expert Douglas Latchford a Fraud?

81-year-old British art collector Douglas A.J. Latchford, known as one of the world’s greatest Khmer antiquities experts, has spent 55 years building his collection of Cambodian treasures. Not only is he known for building an impressive collection, but Latchford has also been recognized for generously returning of some of his treasures to Cambodia. A recent civil lawsuit, however, has cast a shadow on Latchford’s sterling reputation.

The United States attorney’s office has recently filed a civil lawsuit against auction house Sotheby’s. The complaint, which refers to Latchford only as “the collector,” claims that he purchased a 10th-century statue that he knew to have been looted in 1972. Sotheby’s still hopes to sell the statute, which is reportedly worth millions of dollars. The lawsuit seeks to have the statue returned to Cambodia.

According to the complaint, the 500-pound sandstone statue — called the Duryodhana — was looted from a temple during the Cambodian civil war. The complaint further alleges that it was acquired by an organized looting network, transferred to a Thai dealer, then purchased by Mr. Latchford. The complaint finally alleges that when the statue was shipped from Belgium to New York in 2010, Sotheby’s instructed the owner to submit an affidavit to the American customs officials which falsely stated that the statue was not cultural property.

Both Sotheby’s and Latchford have denied the allegations. According to a spokesperson for Sotheby’s, federal prosecutors are attempting “to tar Sotheby’s with a hodgepodge of other allegations designed to create the misimpression that Sotheby’s acted deceptively in selling the statue.” Sotheby’s claims that there is no evidence that the statue was looted, or that it belongs to Cambodia. Internal Sothby’s documents show that Latchford never owned the statue.

Latchford claims that although he did want to own the statue at one point, he never actually purchased it. According to Latchford, the lawsuit is “somebody’s imagination working overtime.”


  • It will be interesting to see where this goes. Sotheby’s is certainly not going to be intimidated by a federal attorney, as often happens to small businesses in the trade. From all the buzz that surrounds this case, one might wonder why it was brought as a civil suit and not a criminal prosecution? Is that perhaps because the burden of proof differs between the two and the government is hedging a little? Maybe a lot?

  • Civil and criminal suits are not mutually exclusive. The State could still bring a criminal prosecution, but may not have found sufficient evidence of Latchford having committed a crime within the applicable statute of limitations. The civil suit has a lower burden (preponderance of the evidence, versus beyond a reasonable doubt), so the goal of recovering the artifact is much more attainable.

  • If Mr. Latchford never actually had title to the object, nor “owned” it in a contractual sense, how can the government file suit against him to recover it for repatriation? On the other hand, I presume that if the sale were consummated Sotheby’s would pay Mr. Latchford. That must be some indication of ownership unless you just ascribe to the view that possession in nine tenths of the law. So is Latchford protected by the one tenth left? This is a wierd case to say the least. Why would DOJ choose this case as a public poster boy (press coverage is never fortuitous) when there are scads of legitimate repatriation issues available? It just smells to me more like “hassle” than “justice”. I think it’s an ego thing. Sue Sotheby’s and Latchford and become famous — or pad your annual efficiency report. I’d venture to predict that the case will be settled with a repatriation and no penalty, which is perhaps what DOJ wanted from the get-go and maybe what is right in this case (who knows?). Too bad there isn’t a less strident way to achieve that end. The Cultural Property War is not a confrontation with rules. Whatever gets the job done seems to prevail on both sides.

  • The suit is against the object itself, not Latchford. You can read the rather interesting history of ownership in the complaint (linked to in the post). I don’t think it’s all quite as scandalous as you do, just a government agency trying to effectuate the return of a looted object upon the request of the home country.

    • In these cases, the suit is ALWAYS against the object itself, but it is not the object that is at risk. Sorry for not following all of the links, sometimes my interests and enthusiasm override my physical limitations. I readily admit that I see government repression as scandalous and the lack of government success in the area of repressing looting as equally scandalous. Maybe I just expect too much for the $ I pay them every year. A rational and effective policy would be a good start.

  • Let’s remember few points! The conscience about the preservation of the cultural patrimony is rather recent.
    We see constantly the scandalous news about possible looting and also the provenance of archaeological and historical items. Most of the time the people are worried with the END of the line, but hardly ever they are worried with the beginning or the middle of the line.
    But, what is the beginning of it ? Practically all the countries has its traces and peculiarities of art and culture … IF, there is something valuable , nice or at least curious … Possibly there is someone interested and able to collect it .
    Then, we have the beginning in the place where we can see poverty and lack of mentality about the importance about the cultural patrimony. But if the place is suffering upsets, wars and other issues, the central Governments became weak and the result is as we have seen in Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Greece and now in Syria.
    The middle of the line is the market. Most of the time, it is public and open and you can see the offers o line in the innumerable Auctions houses and a myriad of sites (Thousands! As Vauctions, Artemis, Art&Ancient and others). Also, on Ebay we see millions of people selling items that not always they know they are.
    In the end of the line , on the other hand … Most of the time, we see scandals involving VIP people and museums . Recently was divulged one about a roman marble head and one Maya pottery item, both in USA. Also, Paul Getty Museum retuned a lot of pottery items to Italy and curiously it was the only modernized and refurnished room in the Naples Museum in 2011 when I was there.
    The repressive acts of the Governments about its national heritage are a non-sense because what they would need to do is educate the people and make most of the people and the citizens to respect and preserve its heritage. Also, have a more balanced society and sharing of the wealthy would be a nice start to have a better society and the end of the miserable that sometimes are used as looters or huaqueros . For many times they received 100 us for one items that is sold in NYC, London or Brussels for 3000 us or even more .
    Curiously, the leading suppliers of pieces in the market are : Egypt , Peru and Italy . All of them have serious problems in the boundaries and I could tell you what are the entries and exits of the items .
    Egypt nowadays is a leading place asking for repatriation of Nefertiti bust and other items . But, as a country was not always interested in its past … During the reigns of the some Khedives, obelisks, temples, mummies and all sorts of items were exported to Europe and sometimes changed by chandeliers and other items . Between 1810 and 1828 simply 13 temples were dismantled and the limestone blocks were reused for construction and in one case , a precious temple of King Amenhoptep III in Elephantine Island was used to build a cigarrete factory .
    The case of Cambodia is not very different! The same is valid for many countries of the Middle East and now with the political crisis we are witnesses of the general looting of several archaeological places.
    In 2010 we had a serious problem with the archaeological sites of Egypt . Then, one colleague from Islamart –H has divulged a comprehensible list that showed clearly the situation of the archaeological places as I will post in a separate entry…
    Then, in conclusion, I agree in full to our dear WGSANT when stating that the governments fail in repressing the looting of its own countries.
    What we need now is just to accept that the formula is wrong and try to review the status quo of what we believe to be an effective way of preserving the antiquities in the places they are and also help Governments to keep the places safe and in good shape.
    Regards to all and please accept my wishes for a happy Xtmas and a great 2013.

  • UPDATE about the looting of the Cultural heritage of Egypt

    1. Introduction
    The list below presents an update about the damage and looting of the
    Archaeological Sites and Museums in Egypt.
    It was based on many interviews, reports and other dependable sources
    available on the internet and also calls I made here and there. We
    thank K. Phizackerley for much data. Possibly, this update is not free
    of mistakes, and we would be glad if corrections are sent to us.
    We have two different categories of reports: that of the Government
    and that of other witnesses, researchers and journalists. Our concern
    is related to the integrity of patrimony only.
    The worst report is one of a witness saying that in Saqqarah and
    Abusir areas, there are gangs of some 200 people working together and
    digging extensively in many areas.
    As far we were able to search, the real situation is as below:

    2. Damage and Looting

    Cairo : National Museum of Antiquities ( Cairo Museum)
    According to the reports, ten people invaded the Cairo Museum last
    28th Jan from the roof. They stole all the jewelry items in the Gift
    shop and looked for precious items in the first floor. They broke 13
    showcases and stole some items. The worst was the damage of two
    mummies and apparently one was of Thuya, the Mother in Law of King
    Amenhotep III. The next information seemed to suggest that they were
    in a case that an intruder had fallen on top of and smashed
    accidentally, perhaps Late Period non-royal mummies.
    Two statues of Tutankhamun were completely damaged but the remains
    were left inside the Museum and they can be repaired later.
    Later, on 2nd Feb we had the news that the Museum was on fire. Hours
    later Reuters showed that some cars beside the Museum burn, but the
    Museum was ok. It is now closed and watched by the Army.

    Cairo: Coptic Museum
    Looters attacked the museum. It is known that the local Coptic
    Egyptians tried to protect it. A report from Hany N. Takla , suggests
    that with the minor exception of a couch and chandelier the museum and
    its contents are safe as at 1st February

    Museum of Islamic Art ( Cairo)
    Ok and safe.

    Museum of Memphis
    The Museum in Memphis is a small institution roughly 24 km south of
    Cairo dominated by a colossal limestone statue of Rameses II . The
    Museum and his magazines were robbed on Saturday morning completely.
    The guards tried to avoid the looting but in vain. The former Director
    of the Egyptian Museum, Wafaa Al-Saddik stated that the destruction
    was complete.

    Storage areas (Taftish) in Saqqarah and Abusir
    The SCA built 36 storage areas along the country in order to keep
    antiquities near the areas where they were found. Many Taftish were
    looted. The number was not yet confirmed.

    The magazines and stores of Abusir were opened and stolen. A source in
    Cairo confirmed that the Czech magazine at Abusir and the Cairo
    University magazine at Saqqara have been looted. No confirmation could
    be had about private tombs. Apparently doors have been forcibly opened
    but whether reliefs have been taken is not clear. The inspectors
    themselves have not yet had access to all parts of the site.
    At both Abusir and Saqqara many sealed tombs have been entered by
    thieves, destroying many of the tombs interiors and taking artifacts.
    Some of these tombs at Saqqara act as storerooms for many of the
    artifacts excavated from the tombs of the Old Kingdom officials. The
    storerooms at Abusir contain many royal artifacts excavated from the
    royal burial ground, which contains the majority of the pyramids of
    the V Dynasty kings. Large gangs of men have been reported as digging
    day and night at these sites. The situation at present is still
    unclear whether the army has now secured this region or not, although
    they have been informed of this activity.

    Saqqarah area
    An article in Science Magazine (3 February) reports that ‘one
    archaeologist present at the cemetery of Saqqara’ said that as many as
    200 looters were digging for treasure in the area this past weekend
    before police resecured the area. The unnamed excavator also confirmed
    rumors that the tomb of Maia, the wet nurse of King Tutankhamun, was
    “completely destroyed”. According to the same article another Western
    archaeologist said “we still don’t know the extent of the damage, but
    things have been bad and out of control.”
    Both Abusir and Saqqara are reported to have suffered a lot of damage
    and there are many large gangs digging throughout the night and day.
    “All the sealed tombs were entered last 31 Jan night. Only the Imhotep
    Museum and the adjacent central magazines are currently protected by
    the military. Large gangs are digging day and night everywhere,” said
    Monica Hanna, an Egyptian Egyptologist and verified by Mohammad Megahed.
    Serapeum broken into and partially set on fire, lots of Ibis mummies
    taken. Every tomb there was broken into. The army can chase them away
    during the day, but the night is different.

    Luxor ( East Bank)
    Groups attempted to enter the Luxor Temple but part of population
    rallied and avoided any damage. The Museum of Luxor is completely ok.
    Quite apart from demonstrating the immense courage of the local people
    it also reaffirms that the tourist police protecting the site were
    withdrawn en masse and that subsequently one of those police was one
    of the leader of the attempt to loot or ravage the temple.
    The people, at the ecouragement of the Imams in the mosques, also
    protected Christian churches.
    Looters tried to break into Karnak Temple over the weekend of 30th
    January, but were repulsed by locals, although reportedly the thugs
    were armed with guns. The protectors included Mr. Mansour Boraik, head
    of the Upper Egyptian Antiquities, and Mr. Ibrahim Soliman, head of
    the Karnak Temple. It has been suggested that the attack was aimed at
    the Karnak warehouse. No other reports of attempted looting are
    presently known.
    Luxor Temple and the Mummification Museum are guarded by soldiers:
    Miss Sanaa Aly, the Director of Luxor Museum, has confirmed its
    safety. Apparently the Mosques have been telling their worshippers to
    protect the monuments.
    Over the weekend of 31st January, there was one report of minor,
    unspecified damage in the Luxor area. There are no details at present
    and this has not been verified.
    The Swiss newspaper NZZ reports that in Luxor an excavation in which
    the university of Basel takes part has been attacked by looters. The
    source of this information is Antonio Loprieno, head of Basel
    University. He suspects that policemen from a nearby village are

    NOTE : One very bad piece of news is that prisons in Qena and Armant
    (next to Luxor) have been emptied, so criminals are free and people
    fear major looting will occur in that region. Remember that Qena is
    the beginning of the route of the traffic that lead antiquities to the
    Red Sea.

    Thebes ( West Bank)
    The West Bank (where the mortuary temples and the Valley of the Kings
    are located) the police have abandoned the monuments so protection is
    being organized by local people who are taking measures to ensure that
    the sites are safe. Traditionally some individuals collect items
    around the site but we don’t have news about looting of the private
    tombs of the nobles. There are no protests on the West Bank.

    Middle Egypt
    There is scarce news of looting in Middle Egypt. Missions in Amarna
    and Antinoe have all reported that their sites are undisturbed at the
    start of the weekend; their subsequent safety has not been verified.
    It has been suggested, however, that the site of Ehnasya
    (Herakleopolis Magna) has been severely looted, although again there
    is no verification yet.
    A report tells that attempts were made over the weekend of 29th/30th
    January by a large group of men to rob the open air museum at
    Ashmunein, and also an attempt was made to open the magazine at
    Bahnasa. Both attempts were foiled by local security personnel.
    Similarly, the magazines at Amarna are currently secure. They remain
    under guard. The general practice being adopted is to build
    additional stone and concrete walls to protect magazines.
    The situation of Middle Egypt now is unknown, but for several years we
    have news that groups of looters are digging Christian Cemeteries
    there and Coptic textiles are sold abroad. The route is via the Red
    Sea, reaching Saudi Arabia and later Turkey.

    East of Qantara in the Sinai, there is a large store containing
    antiquities from the Port Said Museum. A large group, armed with guns
    and a truck, entered the store, opened the boxes in the magazine and
    took the precious objects. Some say that some objects were recovered
    The Sun also claims that 3,000 articles were taken from the magazine
    at Qantara; others were smashed. In that case, the return of 288
    items was reported by the new Minister for Antiquities.
    Archbishop Damiano confirmed on 1st February that the monastery of
    Saint Aikaterini is safe.

    The Museum of Aswan is ok. The Army is said to have secured the Nubian
    Museum. The Aswan Museum on Elephantine was approached by looters but
    report says that they were turned back by locals. Streets said to be
    quiet with army visible but no police.

    Groups attempted to enter the Royal Jewelry Museum, National Museum of
    Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Although, with great foresight,
    employees of the Royal Jewelry Museum moved all of the objects into
    the basement, and sealed it before leaving.
    The library is safe, whether they be the staff of the Library or the
    representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining others in
    guarding the building from potential vandals and looters.
    Reports still abound for major looting in the Alexandria Museum—but
    those reports are hard to confirm. The violence has been worse in
    Alexandria, and there have been few police reports there.” Later, one
    report stated that the Graeco-Roman Museum is safe.

    The sites under archaeological operations in the Fayoum have not been
    mentioned so far in the reports. Since the focus of the El-Lahun
    Survey Project is the monumental area at El-Lahun, it was crucial for
    us to have a clear view of what had happened to the Fayoum.
    The SCA stated that the sites are generally in poor condition, traces
    of illicit diggings have been observed here and there. There was a
    fortunately unsuccessful attempt of looting the Karanis (Kom Aushim)
    magazine which is now guarded and protected by inspectors of the SCA
    and local people. No objects have been stolen.

    3. Conclusion

    The Egyptian Government stated a formal recommendation as below:

    “ … It is inevitable that some antiquities will make their way on to
    the illicit antiquities market. Many antiquities are world famous and
    well published making them harder to sell; however, there are many
    hundreds of thousands that are not that well published and even more
    that have not been excavated as part of an organized legitimate
    excavation. There are probably some unscrupulous antiquities dealers
    and private collectors who are rubbing their hands at the prospect of
    attaining new Egyptian antiquities, it is the responsibility of all
    decent law abiding people to be diligent. If any Egyptian antiquities
    are offered for sale that have a dubious provenance it is the
    responsibility of every museum and individual to report the sellers
    straight away to the proper authorities. In the USA the officials from
    the Department of Homeland Security, in the UK Her Majesties Customs
    and Excise must be extra diligent. The free ports in Switzerland as
    well as those in other European countries and Japan should all be
    working with Egyptologists and the SCA to ensure that those
    responsible are brought to justice and that no illicit antiquities
    enter their countries. These criminals must not be allowed to profit
    from their crimes against humanity. If you suspect that an antiquity
    is looted or you see any looting taking place you should contact the
    police, the Art Lost Register, Interpol, CultNat or the SCA, failing
    that you can contact Dr Marina Apaydin, Deputy Director Management,
    UNESCO World Heritage Centre at m.apaydin@unesco.org, Monica HannaMonica_h@aucegypt.edu
    , Monica.hanna@gmail.com, 00393282069816 or ECHO on egyptianheritage@yahoo.co.uk
    and we will notify the correct legal authorities on your behalf. Our
    friends at Looting Matters will also be monitoring this situation very
    closely. Although this comment from ECHO focuses on archaeological
    sites, artefacts and museums in Egypt, our first concerns are for the
    Egyptian people who have demonstrated their wish for social change.
    There are many heroes in Egypt, some of whom are our friends and
    colleagues, that are helping to protect Egypt’s heritage, for it is
    the world’s heritage, and the world send their thanks to all of you.
    May God be with the good people of Egypt; our thoughts and prayers are
    with you! “

    Please note the following statement of Wafaa Al Saddik, former
    director of the Egyptian Museum “ A security guard earns about 250
    Egyptian pounds, or 35 € a month. We have about 160 security guards
    plus several dozen police officers who are basically conscripts in
    police uniforms. These policemen earn even less …” : Cf: http://hyperallergic.com/17896/egyptian-museum-looted-by-own-guards-memphis-looted/

    We hope this report underscores the seriousness of the situation and
    we stress the necessity of the intervention of international
    organizations that can preserve the fragile and invaluable patrimony
    that belongs to the Egyptian people and also, to all humankind.

  • My best wishes as well to Kimberly, Christiano and all who read these lines. May your holidays be peaceful and memorable. For those who long for snow, I think Kimberly might have some extra :-)

  • Merry Christmas, all! I will be celebrating in Maryland with family, so not too much snow I’m sure. :)