AC Executive Director Quoted in Grid 360

Grid News explores a 360 View of the World of Stolen Antiquities using lenses including Law Enforcement, Terrorism, Technology, or Culture to explore the history and impact of antiquities trafficking, as well as the current ongoing global reckoning to repatriate stolen treasure.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, a nonprofit that campaigns against the illegal antiquities trade, told Grid. “I think the pressure [to return objects] will only increase. It seems like every month there are new champions that are stepping forward in this area. It is something that has gone out of archaeological conferences or museum boardrooms and is regularly making the front page.”

Read the article here.

The Antiquities Coalition Releases New Story Map On the Koh Ker Ganesha

Interactive Resource Traces Cultural Treasure’s Journey from lost – to found?

One week ago marked a huge break in the case of the lost Koh Ker Ganesha, one of the world’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities,” a list launched in 2020 by the Antiquities Coalition to help find some of the top looted, stolen, and missing cultural treasures from around the globe.

In light of this success, the AC has released a new story map documenting the journey of the Ganesha from the rich site of Koh Ker, to the halls of a museum, to the private collection of a wealthy entrepreneur. This interactive resource also features an exclusive interview with Dr. Piphal Heng, a Cambodian archaeologist who has been working in the field for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Interim Associate Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and a member of the affiliate faculty at the Department of Anthropology at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Last week, US authorities recovered a major collection of looted asian antiquities, including what experts believe is the Ganesha photographed at Koh Ker in the 1930s. This marks the first success from the Ten Most Wanted Antiquities list. We need your help to return the other pieces to their rightful owners. And, Tweet at the AC (@combatlooting) with recommendations for other pieces to include in the living “Top Ten Most Wanted Antiquities” list.

Read Our Press Release on the Recovery here.

Explore the Full Story Map here.

AC’s Top Ten Most Wanted Campaign Featured by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

Following the file for civil forfeiture of Khmer artifacts looted and trafficked from Cambodia, the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded the repatriation of a highly sought-after antiquity to its Khmer origins, reported the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project on January 18, 2022. This relic has been on the list of “most wanted” antiquities by the Antiquities Coalition for years. While it is yet to be verified, this would be the first instance of an antiquity from the 10 Most Wanted list to be discovered and returned.

“For years, the Antiquities Coalition had the more than 1,000-year-old Ganesha statue on its top ten most wanted list of looted artifacts.”

While the artifact was originally looted and trafficked by the notorious antiquities dealer, Douglas Latchford, the statue was found in the possession of James H. Clark, the founder of Netscape and WebMD. He stated to have “naively” acquired a large collection of Cambodian antiquities with no knowledge of their illicit origins. In response to the realization of this knowledge, he has decided to forfeit the trafficked artifacts, hoping to set an example for others who have traded hands with artwork that has been passed through the illicit trade.

The Antiquities Coalition supports Clark’s choice to forfeit the antiquities, as an organization dedicated to combating not only the looting and trafficking of antiquities, but also the possession of ill-gotten pieces of cultural heritage.

“‘We are grateful for his cooperation and hope that this example inspires others to do the right thing, so more of the world’s top ten missing antiquities can return home,’ stated the Antiquities Coalition.”

Read the full article from OCCRP here.

U.S. Authorities Recover Major Collection of Looted Asian Artifacts

Experts Believe 35 Seized Masterpieces Include One of the World’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities”

Washington, January 11, 2022: This week, the United States government filed suit to recover tens of millions of dollars worth of illicit artifacts which criminals had plundered from ancient and sacred sites across Southeast Asia and then laundered onto the American art market, where they ended up in the collection of Netscape founder James H. Clark.

In doing so, U.S. investigators and prosecutors may have also solved a decades-long archeological mystery: experts believe the seizure includes a 1000-year-old masterpiece that ranks among the world’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities,” a list launched in 2020 by the Antiquities Coalition to help find some of the top looted, stolen, and missing cultural treasures from around the globe.

This “Top Ten” shone a spotlight on a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, who had once graced the 10th century Cambodian capital of Koh Ker. Standing five feet tall, it was photographed at the site in the 1930s, but then vanished during the country’s many years of civil war and genocide. A near identical twin emerged in a temporary exhibition at Berlin’s Asian Art Museum in 2004, prompting leading art historians and archeologists to sound alarms that the pieces were one and the same, only slightly modified to describe its illegal origins. Following the controversy, the “Berlin” Ganesha then disappeared itself, only resurfacing this week as one of the 35 objects targeted by U.S. authorities.

According to court filings, this Ganesha and the dozens of other pieces Clark voluntarily forfeited were tied to Douglas Latchford—the “adventurer scholar” who made front page headlines in last year’s Pandora Papers for smuggling blood antiquities from Cambodian war zones, and then hiding his millions of dollars in profits through the misuse of tax havens, trusts, and offshore accounts.

“The Antiquities Coalition commends the U.S. government for ensuring that Douglas Latchford’s death in 2020 did not end the quest to bring him and his co-conspirators to justice,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition. “For a half century, Latchford plundered the rich heritage of the Cambodian people, crimes that we now know helped to fund the Civil War and Killing Fields. He also defrauded countless American collectors, including Mr. Clark. We are grateful for his cooperation and hope that this example inspires others to do the right thing, so more of the world’s top ten missing antiquities can return home.”

If this Ganesha is indeed the one photographed at Koh Ker in the 1930s, it will mark the first success from the Ten Most Wanted Antiquities list, an illustrated guide to artifacts from around the world that have been looted or stolen—and are still missing. The list is accompanied by posters of each object, published on the Antiquities Coalition’s website, which provide snapshots of the pieces’ significance, their theft, and their last known whereabouts. Any information leading to their possible recovery should be submitted to law enforcement using the included tip lines.

AC Founder Featured on Al Jazeera’s The Bottom Line

With outdated conventions and international laws on looting antiquities, the limitations on trafficking predate the prevalence of the internet as a hub for cultural racketeering by decades. In a new interview with Al Jazeera, Deborah Lehr weighs in on the role that the online world, art dealers, and corrupt practices play in the illicit trade. Host Steve Clemons also interviews Shawnee State University Professor Amr al-Azm on his efforts towards curtail the global trends of looting that leads to antiquities trafficking in the West. Watch the interview here>>

AC Executive Director Commends the Impact of Pandora Papers Expose

With the aftermath of the release of the Pandora Papers still fresh in the minds of the public, many politicians and public figures continue to face the music as leaders of peoples and nations “scramble to hold onto their jobs,” write Michael Hudson and Will Fitzgibbon for ICIJ. 

The global conversation on tax havens and financial crimes has been forever changed by the new information brought to light by the largest-ever ICIJ investigation, released in October of 2021. With world leaders such as the president of Cyprus and the finance minister of Brazil being implicated in monetary crimes, a growing number of white-collar criminals are finally being brought to face the consequences of their actions. 

According to Tess Davis, the Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, the overarching approach to public policy has generally deemed cultural racketeering “as a white collar and victimless crime – if it treated it as a crime at all.” The work done by the group of investigative journalists to produce the Pandora Papers “do much to correct this false narrative,” with the high-profile and deeply-reported nature thereof.

“The Pandora Papers exposé confirmed that bad actors are exploiting the multibillion dollar art market, using legal loopholes to traffic artifacts, launder money, and hide ill-gotten gains,” said Tess Davis, executive director of the Antiquities Coalition.

Work from the group of journalists behind the ICIJ and Washington Post expose can be found here.

Stay tuned as more articles, opinion pieces, and news items are released as the impacts of the Pandora Papers continue to unravel.