National: Australian museum to return stolen Cambodian artefacts
After they were found to have been stolen, three bronze sculptures from the 9th and 10th centuries will be returned to Cambodia by Australia’s national gallery.
A decade-long investigation conducted by the two countries led to the discovery of the works’ origins.
The Cambodian government hailed the historic move as “an important step towards redressing past injustices.”.
The move comes amid a global campaign to return looted cultural items.
In the past, parts of Vietnam and Cambodia were inhabited by the Champa Kingdom, which produced these three artworks.
NGA purchased the sculptures in 2011 from British artefacts smuggler Douglas Latchford – who died in 2020 – for A$2.3m (£1.18m; $1.5m).
According to the NGA, Mr Latchford has been implicated in the illegal trade of antiquities since 2016, with charges relating to alleged stolen and looted Cambodian artifacts filed against him in 2019.
They were found in a field in Tboung Khmum, east of Cambodia, in 1994 before being smuggled to international art dealers in Thailand and ending up in Mr Latchford’s collection.
In order to return the items, Nawapan Kriangsak, the daughter of Mr Latchford, worked with researchers from the NGA and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
While Cambodia prepares a new home for the works in Phnom Penh, the works will remain on display at the NGA in Canberra for three years.
At a handover ceremony on Friday, Australia’s Special Envoy for the Arts, Susan Templeman, said the event was an opportunity to right a historical wrong while strengthening ties and deepening understanding.
The Cambodian government has continued to appeal to international governments to retrieve thousands of antiquities allegedly stolen from its ancient temples – including some it believes are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.
A stolen painting was removed from the collection for the second time in recent years by the NGA.
Some of the artefacts, which date back to the 11th Century, were returned to India by the gallery in 2021, in connection with the late New York art dealer William Wolff and alleged antiquities smuggler Subhash Kapoor.
Across the globe, efforts are being made to return culturally significant antiquities to their original owners.
During the month of March, it was announced that four Aboriginal spears taken by British explorer Captain James Cook and his landing party when they first arrived in Australia in 1770 would be returned to their traditional owners.
First Nations communities have been campaigning for the spears’ return for 20 years, after they were housed at Cambridge University.