More than two dozen looted artifacts were returned to Cambodia by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., on Friday, in a move that officials said was intended to restore cultural heritage to the country. The 27 repatriated artifacts are estimated to be worth $3.8 million.
Among the objects returned were statues of Shiva and Buddha, as well as artifacts dating back to Cambodia’s Angkor era, which lasted from the 9th to the 15th century.
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In a statement, Vance said, “The repatriation of these 27 stunning relics to the people of Cambodia restores an important link between the nation’s classical Angkor era and its modern customs and beliefs that, for far too long, was disrupted by the greed of stolen antiquities traffickers.”
Twenty-four of the artifacts were obtained in connection with an investigation into disgraced dealer Subhash Kapoor and his network. Kapoor, who operated the New York gallery Art of the Past, was charged with looting by U.S. authorities in 2019. He and seven others were accused of operating a smuggling ring that looted $145 million in artworks over a 30-year period. UNESCO, the United Nations–operated agency, estimated that Kapoor had stolen 50,000 objects from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
Kapoor is currently awaiting trial in India’s Tamil Nadu state. This is not the first time this year that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has returned objects that Kapoor looted: in April, it also sent back 33 objects to Afghanistan.
The remaining three objects returned on Friday were located during an investigation into dealer Nancy Wiener, who was accused of selling looted objects at her New York gallery over a period of nearly two decades. Until then, Wiener was regarded as one of the top dealers of Southeast Asian artifacts in the city.
Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodia’s minister of culture and fine arts, said in a statement, “The repatriation provides evidence that even during the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia remains committed to finding and bringing back our ancestors’ souls that departed their motherland over a number of years, including during a period of war.”