A Sydney art dealer advertised Cambodian antiques attributed to a suspected stolen art dealer.
- Suspected art looter Douglas Latchford died last year before appearing in court, but US authorities continue to investigate the extent of his collection and transactions
- Several Cambodian works related to Douglas Latchford were advertised by a Sydney dealer and emails obtained by the ABC show them negotiating over several artifacts.
- Massive financial leak reveals Mr Latchford has set up offshore trusts which now provide more details of his transactions
On the web pages linked to the Gandhara business, a number of articles related to the controversial art dealer Douglas Latchford were featured. The items were labeled “Price on Request”.
Mr Latchford was once one of the most respected scholars in the field of Khmer antiquities but, over the past decade, has been the subject of an investigation for the looting of objects of cultural significance from Cambodia dating from the 1970s.
In 2019, US investigators accused Mr Latchford of being a “major player in a transnational multibillion-dollar cultural property criminal network” that included falsification of provenance documents, unauthorized searches and illicit smuggling.
Prosecutors requested confiscation of “any good” from its illicit trade for four decades.
Mr Latchford faced a maximum of 20 years in prison but died in 2020 before appearing in court, leaving behind questions about what happened to his money and items allegedly looted.
Link between Sydney and an alleged art trafficker
Four artefacts have been offered for sale online by Gandhara: a bronze Lakshmi from the 12th century; a 12th century bronze triad; a 10th century bronze Prajnaparamita; and a female deity in bronze from the 12th century.
They have been described as “Ex Douglas Latchford Collection”.
There is no evidence or suggestion that the Douglas Latchford artifacts advertised on Gandhara’s web pages were the product of looting.
Gandhara owner Andrew Tompkins told the ABC he had met Mr Latchford on several occasions but was “unaware of his untoward actions” when he announced the artifacts.
He stated that he had only received images of the Latchford artifacts from a gallery in Bangkok and that they had “never been in my possession at any time” and that he had never made any sale on them.
He said Gandhara had not been in operation for about five years and that many of the artifacts posted on Gandhara’s Instagram account in recent years were not for sale.
Mr. Tompkins firmly denies having had any business dealings with Mr. Latchford.
“I had no business with him and I met him a few times, that’s all,” he said.
However, several emails obtained by the ABC appeared to show that Mr Latchford and Mr Tompkins were discussing the potential sale and exchange of artifacts until 2017, long after Latchford became a suspect.
In a 2017 thread, Mr. Tompkins appeared to be negotiating with Mr. Latchford over several items on behalf of a client.
“I am proposing the Baphoun Pajnaparamitre … with $ 75,000,” Mr. Tompkins said in the email. “For the two diamonds and the two large round pearls. Let me know your thoughts.”
Mr Latchford replied: “The coin can be your choice, but my thought would be either the Angkor Borei stone or the bronze Dakini with a serpent in the right hand. I would value this coin at around 150-185 $ 000. This is probably the biggest and the best I have seen… Try to see if your friend would like to go ahead with my suggestion. ”
It is not clear whether this agreement has been reached.
Other emails in 2018 appeared to show Mr Latchford and Mr Tompkins exchanging ownership transfer forms for several artifacts.
The CBA questioned Mr Tompkins about the emails through his attorney, but he declined to answer.
After media inquiries, Gandhara’s websites and Instagram account were taken down.
Donna Yates, a researcher for the International Trafficking Culture Project, said artifacts that have passed through Mr Latchford should be closely examined.
“Not everything that has come into Latchford’s hands is illegal… I think anything bearing a Douglas Latchford name should be treated as suspicious immediately.”
Questions remain about Latchford’s role in art trafficking
Mr. Latchford, also known as Pakpong Kriangsak, had a lucrative career collecting and trading South East Asian antiques.
His Bangkok apartment was lined with precious remains of Cambodia’s Khmer Empire.
According to the US Department of Justice, Mr. Latchford, “has built his career in the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often directly from archaeological sites.”
This year, Mr Latchford’s daughter pledged to return her father’s Khmer collection, estimated at tens of millions of dollars, to Cambodia.
Despite Mr Latchford’s death, US investigators continue to seek the return of Operation Latchford articles and products, two sources familiar with the investigation who are not authorized to report to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. discuss it.
The Cambodian embassy told the ABC, although it could not comment on a possible connection to Sydney, the government was trying “to find out more about other works that may belong to our country.”
Ms Yates said dealers and galleries should approach all Latchford-related works with caution.
She said any stolen works located in museums, galleries or private collections should be repatriated.
“With a stolen property, the right thing to do is return it to its owner,” she said.
“It is a loss of cultural heritage; the forced privatization of beautiful outpourings of human culture in situations where they are not meant to be private objects – they are meant to be shared by all.”
Global financial leak exposes Latchford offshore deals
Documents published in connection with the leaked “Pandora Papers” obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists this week shed new light on Mr Latchford’s use of offshore entities to move his wealth.
The ICIJ has found trust and business registration records which show Mr Latchford created the first of two trusts on the Isle of Jersey three months after US investigators began linking him to objects looted.
An attorney for members of the Latchford family told the ICIJ and the Washington Post that the trusts were created for genuine and legitimate tax and estate planning purposes, and that trust planning began long before any began. investigating Mr. Latchford.
One of the two trusts set up was called the Skanda Trust, which held several pieces from Mr Latchford’s collection.
In a 2011 Latchford post, 80 relics appear as “courtesy of Skanda Trust,” which experts say had a collective value of around $ 10 million.
In January of this year, Gandhara posted a video of a bronze lion artifact from Koh Ker on his Instagram page, captioned “Previously Skanda Trust “.
Andrew Tompkins said this artifact posted to Gandhara’s Instagram account was never for sale, but did not provide details on the source of the video.
The dealer donated works to the NSW Art Gallery
Mr. Tompkins donated six works to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2007.
The New South Wales Art Gallery also purchased a work by Mr. Tompkins in the same year.
The works were not from Cambodia and Mr Tompkins said the works were from his private family collection and that he provided the gallery with the necessary information at the time.
The provenance of the works is examined as part of a larger project that does not specifically target the pieces donated by Mr. Tompkins.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand told the ABC that the gallery “does everything to ensure that it acquires and borrows works of art that have been proven to be provenance or are deemed to have a safe history ”.
“The NSW Art Gallery continues to be engaged in provenance research for its Asian collection of over 4,000 works.”
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