In the second half of the 20th century, Bangkok-based British businessman Douglas Latchford was at the center of an operation that trafficked ancient Khmer sculptures and archaeological treasures out of Cambodia. These pieces of art traveled far, ending up in rich people’s homes and museums like the Met. Matthew Campbell tells an engrossing story filled with looters and brokers and collectors, and describes the current efforts of the Cambodian government to retrieve artifacts over the decades that were not acquired legitimately.
Thousands of pieces were taken, robbing Cambodians of relics that some view almost as physical manifestations of their ancestors. Ripped from their pedestals with picks, chisels, and even dynamite, and sometimes broken into parts for easier transport, these artifacts were dispersed around the world, repurposed to adorn museum halls and living rooms in New York, London, and Palm Beach. The investigators are working to track down and repatriate what Latchford sold, a project that has only accelerated since he died in 2020 at age 88, before he could face federal fraud and conspiracy charges.