The family of billionaire private art collector, George Lindemann, has returned 33 looted Cambodian artifacts from the United States to Cambodia.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts on Wednesday, the 33 Cambodian Cultural Artifacts were returned to Cambodia on September 11.
“This momentous event is the result of years of collaboration between our Cambodian team and the US Government, in support of the recently renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the US Government and the Royal Government of Cambodia,” the statement said.
Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, said that Cambodia is pleased that the Lindemann family has voluntarily returned the ancient statues to their homeland.
The family claimed to have bought the ancient statues unwittingly from dealers. However, a three year investigation launched by US and Cambodian authorities, revealed they had been stolen, prompting the Lindemanns to agree to their return.
“This return sets an excellent and proper example for other museums and private collectors we have informed to follow and return our national treasures,” Sackona said.
She added that the nation is delighted that these “extraordinary masterpieces” have been returned after more than three years of efforts by the US Government, with strong support from the restitution team of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
“These returns significantly contribute to the reconciliation and healing of the Cambodian people, who went through decades of civil war and suffered tremendously from the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” Sackona said.
US Attorney, Damian Williams, said on the United States Attorney website that for decades, Cambodia suffered at the hands of unscrupulous art dealers and looters who trafficked cultural treasures to the American art market.
“This historic agreement sets a framework for the return of cultural patrimony in support of the MoU between the US and Cambodia,” he said. “We thank the Lindemann family for their cooperation and assistance in the repatriation of the antiquities to Cambodia.”
It noted that the antiquities returned to Cambodia include a monumental 10th Century statue of Dhrishtadyumna that was stolen from Prasat Chen in Koh Ker, the ancient capital of the Khmer kingdom; statues stolen from Prasat Krachap in Koh Ker, including a 10th Century sculpture depicting Ardhanarishvara (half-male, half-female deity) and a 10th Century Anantashayana Vishnu (reclining Vishnu with Lakshmi).
It also includes six heads of devas (angels) and asuras (demons) that were removed from the gates to Angkor Thom in the Angkor Wat complex, and a kneeling figure from Banteay Srei.
On August 30, the US Embassy and Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts extended a US-Cambodia cultural cooperation agreement for a further five years, with the US pledging to continue its long-standing commitment to “protect and restore Cambodia's rich cultural legacy”.