By Niem Chheng
The Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network
US attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffey Berman and special agent in charge of the New York field office of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Peter Fitzhugh announced on Friday that Latchford had been charged with wire fraud, substantive wire fraud and smuggling, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
He was also charged with conspiracy to commit an offence against the US, entry of goods by false statements and one count of aggravated identity theft, according to Berman’s office.
Latchford, who has dual British and Thai citizenship, donated some antiquities to Cambodia years ago.
Berman said: “As alleged, Latchford built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities in the international art market, often straight from archaeological sites.
“This prosecution sends a clear message to the art market and to those who profit from the illegal trafficking of cultural treasures – the US and the Southern District of New York will use every legal tool to stop the plundering of cultural heritage.”
Special agent Fitzhugh said that through the investigative efforts of HSI special agents, three stolen artefacts from Cambodia and another from India, valued at a total of $750,000, had been recovered and would be returned to their homelands.
The court and HSI officials said that from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, Cambodian archaeological sites from the ancient Khmer Empire experienced serious damage and looting when the country underwent civil unrest.
The looted artefacts went into the international market through an organised network. They first reached the Cambodia-Thailand border and were then transferredto Thai brokers and further to international customers, the court document said.
“From at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, Latchford engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the US,” the document said.
It said that Latchford manipulated the provenance of the antiquities he sold in order to conceal the fact that the artefacts were looted products or came through unauthorised exaction and illicit smuggling.
He also misrepresented the provenance of Cambodian antiquities in letters, emails, invoices and other communications.
Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts spokesman Long Ponnasirivath told The Post on Sunday that Cambodia used to receive some antiquities from Latchford as one of its donors, but that Cambodia respects the US court proceeding in dealing with Latchford’s case.
He continued that Cambodia and the US government have a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate with each other in returning stolen artefacts back to Cambodia. It also has an agreement with other countries to stop the traffic of antiquities.
Cambodia also appealed to all individuals who had taken antiquities from the Kingdom during the civil unrest to return them.
“We received from him [Latchford] as he was a donor. He donated and we received them without evaluating the artefacts. If they give [the antiquities] back to Cambodia, we will welcome them and thank them. For his court case, if the US would need our cooperation in the legal proceeding, we will cooperate,” he said.
HSI seized an ancient sandstone sculpture described as a Shiva and Uma statue from San Francisco. The sculpture dated back to 921-945 AD and is valued at approximately $350,000.
The case is also linked to Latchford, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.