Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ricky J. Patel, Acting Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security (“HSI”) New York Field Office, announced today the filing of a civil complaint requesting the confiscation of 35 Cambodian and Southeast Asian antiquities from a private American collection with the aim of returning the antiquities to their countries of origin. Antique dealer Douglas Latchford sold the collection to its current owner (the “collector”) with false claims and provenance documents intended to hide the fact that the antiques were the product of looting, then imported antiques through lies on customs documents. The Collector has voluntarily renounced possession of the antiques.
US Attorney Damian Williams said: “This office continues to trace and recover the many stolen cultural treasures that Douglas Latchford has sold and scattered far from their home country. Through this action, the United States reaffirms its commitment to righting the wrongs committed by Latchford and other looters 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 operated an illegitimate business by smuggling antiques looted into the United States in blatant disregard of US customs laws. . Latchford facilitated this by forging customs documents and providing deceptive documents to collectors for sale in the international art market. Today, we are happy to note that 35 cultural objects will be repatriated in their legitimate framework. HSI New York will not stop in its efforts to locate all antiques related to the Latchford fraud and ensure that every piece of the story is not only found, but returned home.
According to the complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court on January 7, 2022:
The United States of America seeks the confiscation of 34 antiques that Latchford sold to the collector between 2003 or around 2003 and around 2007 (the “Defendants in Rem”). The defendants in Rem are bronze and sandstone sculptures and artefacts from countries in Southeast Asia, mainly Cambodia, but also from India, Myanmar and Thailand. They include a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha from Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer Empire; and bronze sculptures from around Angkor Wat. Latchford sold the defendants in Rem to the collector as part of a scheme to sell looted antiques on the international art market. The defendants in Rem were either illegally expelled from their country of origin; imported into the United States based on false declarations to the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), or both.
Over the years, Latchford has lied to the collector and withheld information from him in order to cover up that the defendants in Rem had been stolen, and provided the collector with false provenance documents and information on the origin of some of the defendants. to Rem. After Latchford sold the defendants to Rem, many of them were then illegally imported into the United States based on false claims Latchford made to CBP and others.
In 2019, Latchford was charged in the Southern District of New York with conspiracy of wire fraud and other crimes related to a multi-year program to sell looted Cambodian antiques on the international art market, primarily by creating fake provenance documents and falsifying invoices and shipping documents. including by distorting the country of origin of works of art. See United States v. Latchford, 19 Cr. 748 (AT) (the “Indictment”). In September 2020, the indictment was dismissed due to Latchford’s death.
In 2021, an HSI agent contacted the collector regarding the defendants in Rem. The collector promptly cooperated with government investigations and allowed the government to inspect the defendants in Rem. After the collector learned more about the history of Latchford and the defendants at Rem, including evidence that the defendants at Rem had been illegally looted and / or illegally imported into the United States, the collector voluntarily waived the claim. possession of the defendants in Rem so that they can be repatriated to their country of origin.
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Mr. Williams thanked HSI for its outstanding work in this investigation, which he said is ongoing, and praised 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 being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant to the US Attorney Jessica Feinstein is in charge of the case.
The allegations contained in the complaint are only accusations.