James H. Clark, the cofounder of early internet provider Netscape, has surrendered dozens of Cambodian and Southeast Asian artifacts after federal authorities proved he was one among many collectors duped into buying looted art by a now-disgraced art dealer.
According to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors, Douglas A. J. Latchford, a British antiquities dealer who died in 2020 during a federal investigation into his trafficking operation, persuaded Clark to spend roughly $35 million on 35 artifacts. The objects include a monumental sandstone sculpture of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha from Koh Ker, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire; a bronze seated Buddha; and the figure of a four-armed mother goddess.
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Between 2003 and 2008, Latchford kept his operation running by “falsifying customs documentation and providing deceptive paperwork to collectors for sale on the international art market,” federal officials said in a news release. Before he died in 2020, Latchford repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
“New York will not rest in its efforts to locate all the antiquities related to Latchford’s fraud and see that each piece of history is not just found, but sent home,” officials added.
Latchford was charged in 2019 and Clark, who is referred to in court papers filed on Tuesday as “the Collector,” was first contacted by authorities in 2020. The news release noted that Clark cooperated voluntarily with the investigation.
Phoeurng Sackona, the Cambodian culture minister, said in a statement, “We are proud of our joint efforts and cooperation between the governments of our two countries and their impact on restoring to our country important masterpieces of our cultural heritage for the benefit of all humanity and particularly Cambodia’s younger generation.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Clark said investigators expressed their wish to repatriate the objects to their countries of origins. According to the collector, investigators said “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?”
Clark, 77, began working with Latchford after traveling through Cambodia in 1994. In his Times interview, Clark said he began distancing himself from Latchford in 2008 after the dealer failed to provide paperwork for the provenance of a female deity he had been offered for around $30 million.
The investigation into Latchford is part of a determined effort by the Cambodian government to reclaim cultural heritage looted from Khmer temples during the nation’s decades of civil war and tumult. In September, the Denver Museum of Art deaccessioned four works to Cambodia, three of which were obtained through Latchford. Six months after the late dealer’s death, his daughter, Nawapan Kriangsak, returned 125 objects from his personal collection.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art remains under pressure from Cambodia to document how it acquired roughly 200 artifacts in its collection that the culture ministry believes were looted from the country between 1970 and 2000. The museum said in a statement that “in light of new information on some pieces in our collection, we reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s office—to volunteer that we are happy to cooperate with any inquiry.”
In 2013, the Met returned a pair of statues to Cambodia known as “Kneeling Attendants” after two curators visited a 10th-century temple in Koh Ker. The works, as well as numerous pieces in the Met’s collection, were once owned by Latchford.