Genial Englishman Douglas Latchford has been known for his love for ancient sculptures. Latchford even risked land mines to explore Khmer Empire cities in remote Cambodia. Since the 1970s, Latchford has built on of the world’s largest private collections of Khmer treasures.
Latchford’s collection is mostly made up of Hindu and Buddhist sculpture. Latchford co-wrote three books on the subject, one which is called “Adoration and Glory,” in which he wrote:
The sculpture and architecture created by the Khmer to honor their gods and their rulers are among the major artistic masterpieces of the world. . .”
Although Latchford openly expressed his love for Khmer achievements, “he was also trafficking in and profiting from antiquities pillaged from that civilization’s sacred temples, according to U.S. prosecutors. . .” According to U.S. prosecutors, the decades-long ransacking of Cambodian sites ranks as “one of the most devastating cultural thefts of the 20th century.”
Latchford was indicted in 2019, and the United States thought that hundreds of stolen items would be identified and returned. However, Latchford died before trial, leaving many questions unanswered—particularly what happened to all the money and looted treasures.
Previosuly undisclosed records do shed some light to these questions as they describe secret offshore companies and trusts that Latchford and his family controlled.
According to the ICIJ, three months after U.S. investigators began linking Latchford to looted artifacts, “he and his family members set up the first of two trusts named after Hindu gods Skanda and Siva. . .”
The Skanda Trust held Latchford’s antiquities collection worth millions of dollars. Latchford’s assets were eventually transferred from the Skanda Trust to the Siva Trust.
Latchford’s family assert that the trusts were formed for estate planning and tax purposes, but Cambodian officials continue to fight for the Khmer relics that were looted from them.
As U.S. investigators continue to pursue the return of the looted items, an international hunt for the antiquities has commenced an examination of the global trade in art and has uncovered museums holding antiquities linked to Latchford.
For more information See Peter Whoriskey, Malia Politzer, Delphine Reuter, & Spencer Woodman GLOBAL HUNT FOR LOOTED TREASURES LEADS TO OFFSHORE TRUSTS, Washington Post, October 5, 2021.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.