AC’s Tess Davis Discusses the Return of A Looted Greek Gospel in The New York Times

Looted and stolen objects often end up in the hands of collectors who sell these pieces to esteemed art museums. While some museums delay identifying stolen heritage within their walls, others are attempting to regain credibility by returning stolen objects to their rightful homes. 

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, recently returned a more than one thousand-year-old handwritten gospel to the Greek Orthodox Church after determining that it was looted from a Greek monastery during World War I. This repatriation is part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to investigate the provenance of its entire collection.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, detailed the significance of this return in a recent New York Times article:

“I think the Museum of the Bible is a great example of how not to build a collection, but I do wish other American museums would follow its example when dealing with their own existing problematic collections,” said Davis. “In this case, curators saw red flags, they followed where they led, realized the manuscript was stolen, reached out to its rightful owner and voluntarily returned it.” 

The manuscript’s repatriation to the Kosinitza Monastery in northern Greece is scheduled for next month.

Read the full story here.

VOA Interviews Researchers at AC Luncheon Celebrating Return of Cambodian Antiquities

Following the August 8 repatriation of the Statue of Ganesha and 29 other looted Cambodian antiquities, researchers now report that former looters aided in the return of these objects. 

Prak Thida and Prum Kanha, two researchers working with the Cambodian Ministry of Culture, were interviewed by Voice of America (VOA) during the Antiquities Coalition’s August 11 roundtable luncheon to discuss how looters helped the team recover the Ganesha by detailing where and how it was looted. 

Kanha says, “[Former looters] realized they shouldn’t have done that, so they dedicated their lives to helping find the sculptures.”

This historic return inspires hope that additional antiquities will be returned to their home countries, and that former looters will continue to come forward to aid in these returns.

The Ganesha was part of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities” list, illustrating some of the most significant looted, stolen, and missing artifacts from around the world. The Antiquities Coalition will release an updated guide featuring a new Cambodian antiquity to find and recover.

Watch the full interview here.

The Antiquities Coalition Addresses The Need For Proactive Policies in Live Webinar

Global conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now, Ukraine have highlighted the catastrophic impact of war on cultural heritage. With this conflict comes an increase in the looting and illicit trade of antiquities. It’s important that policy makers, as well as the public, understand the stakes and consequences events like global conflict, natural disasters, climate change, and pandemics have on our shared heritage. 

On August 15th, top experts from academia, civil society, and law joined the Antiquities Coalition for an important discussion on The Need for Proactive Policy. As evidenced by the situation in Ukraine, our current policy framework is failing. Leaders need to strengthen global efforts against the destruction of cultural objects before it’s too late. 

During the webinar, these experts discussed recommendations for how international public and legal policy should take a proactive stance aimed at eradicating threats to cultural heritage globally. The discussion featured key takeaways from the Antiquities Coalition’s Think Tank and our roadmap for the G20, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones, as an example of how leaders can strengthen global efforts against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects.

Strategies include: 

  • Providing sustained focus, support, and funding on investigating and preparing policy to protect cultural heritage. 
  • Ensuring that existing laws related to the protection of cultural heritage are up to date and enforced, and increasing awareness so that these laws act as a deterrent. New policy is not always needed.
  • Creating a warning system in order to prioritize and adapt resources accordingly, so that policy makers have the tools they need when they need them.
  • Increasing awareness among policy makers and the public that crimes against cultural heritage are crimes against humanity. 

The AC Hosts Roundtable Discussion on the Successful Return of Cambodian Antiquities

As Cambodia battled decades of civil war and genocide in the late 20th century, criminals took advantage of the unrest to loot and steal artifacts from its ancient capital of Koh Ker and other archeological sites. Among these items was the Ganesha, a 1000-year-old elephant-headed statue that has long been on the Antiquities Coalition’s radar as one of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities.” 

The Ganesha, along with 29 other looted Cambodian antiquities, finally returned to the Cambodian government on August 8, 2022. These antiquities were stolen from Cambodia as part of an organized looting network and sold by Douglas Latchford to private collectors and a museum in the United States.

Following this success, the Antiquities Coalition hosted a roundtable luncheon with a visiting delegation from the Royal Government of Cambodia to celebrate the kingdom’s recent efforts in finding, recovering, and bringing home its looted masterpieces.

The delegation, joined by other cultural heritage experts actively engaged in the fight against the illicit trade of art and antiquities, spoke about their groundbreaking work that has resulted in the return of the stolen artifacts. In addition, they discussed the difficulties they encountered, lessons learned, and partnerships formed with American allies in law enforcement, civil society, and the arts while searching for these antiquities. 

The return of the Statue of Ganesha marks the first success from the Antiquities Coalition’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities”. The list will relaunch soon with a new Cambodian masterpiece to recover and return.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the Royal Government of Cambodia and all participants in the roundtable discussion for their work to end cultural racketeering.

Antiquities Coalition Celebrates the Return of Looted Cambodian Masterpieces

Repatriated Collection Includes One of the World’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities”

NEW YORK, (August 8, 2022) – Today, the United States government repatriated thirty cultural treasures worth tens of millions of dollars to the Kingdom of Cambodia, including a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god. The return of the Ganesha to its rightful home in Cambodia marks the first success of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities,” the Antiquities Coalition’s 2020 awareness campaign to locate and recover some of the world’s most significant looted, stolen, and missing artifacts.

All 30 pieces had been sold to American collectors by Douglas Latchford—the now disgraced “adventurer scholar,” who made 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 pieces were seized as part of a decade-long, and still ongoing, investigation into Latchford’s network by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The Ganesha was recovered from the collection of Netscape founder James H. Clark, who surrendered a total of 35 antiquities after learning from investigators that all of the pieces were stolen. In an interview with the New York Times, Clark detailed his business relationship with Latchford and why he felt obligated to return the stolen items voluntarily, saying, “my doing this might inspire other people to do the same, but I’m not sure — it’s hard for people to give up something they paid for, but for me, why would you want to own something that was stolen?”

Both the Ganesha and another of the masterpieces returned, the Skanda on a Peacock, hailed from Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire from 928 to 944 C.E. Ancient Koh Ker statuary was revolutionary for its time given the size, dynamic positions, unique decorative features, and sacred ancestral representation of the art pieces. 

“We launched the Ten Most Wanted Antiquities list to shine a spotlight on cultural treasures from around the world that have been lost to crime and war,” said Deborah Lehr, chairman and founder of the Antiquities Coalition. “We’re thrilled that the Ganesha, as well as the Skanda on a Peacock and so many other pieces, are now being returned home to the people of Cambodia. This success demonstrates what wonderful things we can accomplish when governments, law enforcement, advocates, and responsible leaders in the art market work together.”

While the first of the original “Top Ten Most Wanted Antiquities” has been recovered, nine remain missing, along with countless other objects stolen from their home by thieves capitalizing on the chaos of war, unrest, or other crisis. These crimes leave a wound that persists for decades or even centuries. In recognition of the work that remains to combat cultural racketeering, the Antiquities Coalition will soon launch an updated most wanted list featuring a new missing masterpiece from Cambodia.

View the nine missing pieces and  learn more about the Top Ten here.