‘The Crown Jewels Of The Angkor Empire’: Looted Jewelry Returned To Cambodia, Culture And Arts Ministry Says
Mlenny via Getty Images

Rare gold jewelry that dates all the way back to the 9th century has been returned to Cambodia, the southeast Asian country’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts announced Monday. 

In this stash of jewels were 77 gold relics, including crowns, bracelets, and necklaces that were believed to be looted from burial grounds and ancient tombs. They are being returned to Cambodia from the collection of Douglas Latchford, a notorious British art dealer who has been accused of trafficking looted artifacts and had been indicted in the United States. 

“It was not in any published books. The issue now is the team here has to evaluate it and look at each piece,” Brad Gordon, legal advisor to the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said. “It’s 77 objects altogether and the [National Museum of Cambodia] did not have much in terms of gold, so this is much more than it had in its possession.”

“I keep talking to Cambodians today who were taking a look at it, and they were just so excited. They were thrilled and surprised,” he added.

Researchers believe some of the artifacts were once worn by early Angkorian kings from the Khmer empire in the 9th century, which included Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and southern Vietnam. Some of the pieces include a gold necklace with a purple stone, a gold headdress, a gold belt or waistband, and a crown made from hammered gold, the New York Times reported. One thing all the items have in common is that they ended up in the possession of Latchford. 

The lootings likely took place between the 1970s and 2000s. The 1970s was a period of great turmoil under the communist rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. During these years, an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodians died in what’s known as the Cambodian Genocide. 

In November 2018, Latchford was indicted on charges of wire fraud conspiracy and crimes related to the trafficking and looting of Cambodian antiquities, which he denied, the Associated Press notes. Officials from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York claimed that Latchford “built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities.” Upon his death in August 2020 at the age of 88, the indictment was dismissed. 

Latchford’s daughter made an agreement with Cambodia in September 2020, a month after her father’s death, to return various items. This jewelry, some of which was in a London warehouse, was part of that deal. Many artifacts had been returned in 2021. Additional items that have been returned to Cambodia come from the Denver Art Museum and other artifacts from the United States by their respective owners, likely because of their connection to Latchford. While some of these actions were voluntary, others were court-ordered, according to the AP. 

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts secretary told the Times receiving these important artifacts was “getting back the crown jewels of the Angkor Empire.” He also claimed that Cambodia didn’t know many of the items even existed, adding “This is much more than what is in our museum.” 

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