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.”