US returns 27 looted Khmer antiquities back to Kingdom

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Cambodian embassy in Washington DC and the Office of the New York County District Attorney, also known as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, hold a signing ceremony on Wednesday for the transfer of 27 trafficked Cambodian artefacts recovered by US authorities. SUPPLIED

The US has returned 27 Cambodian antiquities – including Angkorian Buddhist and Hindu statues – to Cambodia.

Cambodian ambassador to the US Chum Sounry and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr signed an agreement on June 9 between Cambodia and the DA’s office for the transfer of custody of 27 trafficked Cambodian antiquities recovered by US authorities.

“The return of these antiquities proves once again the fruitful results of a memorandum of understanding signed between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the US government that gave a fresh start to positive bilateral cooperation on cultural preservation between both nations,” Sounry said in an embassy press release on June 9.

“We hope the United States will continue its partnership with Cambodia so that we can put a complete end to the illegal trafficking of Khmer cultural properties and return our cultural heritage back to our country,” he added.

The press release said that the 27 artefacts – all of which were recovered by the Manhattan DA’s office and the US Department of Homeland Security – include several Angkorian Buddhist statues and Hindu statues such as a bronze meditating Buddha on a Naga throne, a Shiva idol and a Buddhist sandstone sculpture of Prajnaparamita.

“The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia has played an important role in coordinating and reaching this historic agreement with the DA’s Office,” according to the embassy press release.

Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona said via video conference from Phnom Penh that she extended her gratitude and praise for the cooperation and assistance provided by the Manhattan DA’s office, US Homeland Security Investigations, the US embassy in Cambodia, the Cambodian embassy in Washington, DC, and the working group of the culture ministry in bringing these important objects home, according to the press release.

Citing the Cambodian embassy in Washington, DC, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Koy Kuong told The Post on June 10 that the 27 artefacts were at the Museum Partner company to be arranged for repatriation to Cambodia.

Culture ministry spokesman Long Ponna Sirivath could not be reached for comment on June 10.

Chad Roedemeier, spokesman for the US embassy in Cambodia, declined to comment further on June 10 beyond referring The Post to the US embassy’s press release.

“This ceremony is a tribute to the cooperation between our two countries on preventing the looting and trafficking of Khmer artefacts,” US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy said in his remarks to the press.

“The United States is proud to play a role in securing the cultural heritage of the Cambodian people,” he added.

“The repatriation of these 27 stunning relics to the people of Cambodia restores an important link between the nation’s classical Angkor era and its modern customs and beliefs that, for far too long, were disrupted by the greed of those who deal in stolen antiquities,” Cyrus Vance Jr was quoted as saying in the press release.

“Today’s event is a powerful reminder that individuals who plunder and sell culturally significant items are committing crimes not only against a country’s heritage – but also its present and future,” Vance said.