In the latest repatriation of ancient artefacts from the US, a total of 33 pieces of Khmer cultural heritage will soon return home, according to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
In a September 12 press statement, it said the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the Department of Homeland Security have reached an agreement with the Lindemanns, a wealthy US family well known for their collection of art and antiquities.
The Lindemanns “voluntarily” return the cultural artefacts.
The Attorneys’ Office described the collection of precious statues as dating from the 10th to 12th centuries, noting that the statues were removed from Cambodia in the 1990s, most likely by looters.
The collection includes a 10th century sculpture depicting Ardhanarishvara (half-male, half-female deity) and a 10th century Anantashayana Vishnu (reclining Vishnu with Lakshmi), which were looted from Krachap temple in Koh Ker, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.
Also among the antiquities are a 10th-century statue of Dhristhadyumna (commander-in-chief of the Pandava army), stolen from Prasat Chen in Koh Ker; six heads of devas (angels) and asuras (demons), which were removed from the gates of Angkor Thom; and a kneeling figure from the 10th-century Banteay Srei temple.
“For decades, Cambodia suffered at the hands of unscrupulous art dealers and looters who trafficked cultural treasures to the American art market. This historic agreement sets a framework for the return of cultural patrimony in support of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the US and Cambodia. We thank the Lindemann family for their cooperation and assistance in the repatriation of the antiquities to Cambodia,” said US attorney Damian Williams.
“Since 2012, the US has successfully investigated, identified and repatriated 65 stolen and illegally imported Cambodian antiquities in the possession of individuals and institutions in the US,” said the Attorney’s Office in a press release.
Culture minister Phoeurng Sackona announced in a statement that the government is pleased the Lindemanns had acknowledged they were in “wrongful possession” of the artefacts and had “voluntarily” return them to their rightful owners
“The return sets an excellent example for the other museums and private collectors that we have asked to return our national treasures. We are delighted that after more than three years of efforts by the US government – with the strong support of the culture ministry’s restitution team – these extraordinary masterpieces are now being returned,” she said.
She added that Cambodia is committed to finding and bringing back the symbols of the ancestors’ souls that were “cruelly” taken from their motherland.
The minister offered her praise and profound gratitude to the Attorney’s Office and US Homeland Security Department, as well as all of the other institutions – both domestic and abroad – for their efforts to ensure the return of the precious pieces. She congratulated the Lindemanns on their decision.
She also thanked Bradley J Gordon of Edenbridge Asia and Steven Heimberg of Heimberg Barr LLP, who serve as legal advisers to the ministry.
“We are proud of our joint efforts and excellent cooperation with the US with respect to restoring Cambodia’s cultural heritage and bringing our stolen artefacts home,” Sackona said.
“These returns significantly contribute to the reconciliation and healing of the Cambodian people who went through decades of civil war and suffered tremendously from the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” she added.