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Antiquities Coalition’s Tess Davis Highlights the Illicit Trade of Cambodian Antiquities in Politico

March 20, 2024

The Kingdom of Cambodia is home to a rich archaeological heritage, but decades of unrest left its ancient sites and antiquities vulnerable to looters and traffickers. One of the most infamous was British expatriate Douglas Latchford. Latchford’s network sourced countless masterpieces (including a Top Ten Most Wanted artifact) from then-wartorn Cambodia, smuggled them across the border, and then laundered them onto the global art market. He then hid his substantial proceeds using a complex network of shell companies and offshore accounts. To this day, the breadth of Latchford’s crimes are still being exposed, while repatriations of his loot have included some of the biggest stolen art recoveries since after the Second World War. 

But the scale of Latchford’s story—which has been extensively reported on in the New York Times, Washington Post, and beyond—has obscured other dealers and collectors of Cambodian art. 

A recent Politico article sought to even this coverage, by exploring István Zelnik, a former Hungarian diplomat with a passion for Asian antiquities. Zelnik ventured into the art market following his retirement from the diplomatic service and, according to Politico, used his connections to sell Cambodian and other Southeast Asian antiquities to private collectors.   

The AC’s Executive Director, Tess Davis, has long worked to expose Latchford’s dealings and draw more attention to the massive scale of the looting in Cambodia. Davis reaffirmed this in Politico, stating “there is no legal supply of ancient Khmer art, that’s like saying it’s legal to sell a gargoyle hacked off of Notre Dame.”

The Antiquities Coalition will continue to fight to safeguard heritage from cultural racketeering and work with our domestic and international partners to support repatriation efforts of stolen artifacts. 

Learn about Zelnik in Politico here and check out the AC’s Top Ten Most Wanted, including Cambodia’s missing Uma, the Consort of Shiva.