Family of late U.S. billionaire agrees to return looted Cambodian artefacts

By Clare Baldwin

(Reuters) – The family of late American pipeline billionaire George Lindemann has agreed to return 33 looted artefacts to Cambodia, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a decision described as “momentous” by the Southeast Asian country.

The collection includes statues of deities, angels and demons from the 10th and 12th centuries from Koh Ker, the ancient capital of the Khmer kingdom, and from the famous Angkor Wat temple, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said on Tuesday.

In a statement it said the family’s decision to return the artefacts was voluntary. Lawyers for the Lindemann family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cambodia’s archaeological sites suffered widespread looting during civil conflicts from the 1960s to 1990s and its government has spent years pursuing the return of antiquities, some of which it says are on display in American museums.

The United States repatriated 27 smuggled antiquities to Cambodia in 2021, including Hindu and Buddhist statues valued at about $3.8 million and last year returned 30 more including several that were more than 1,000 years old.

The artefacts that were held by the Lindemann family are expected to be repatriated later this year, said Bradley Gordon, a lawyer advising Cambodia on the repatriations and head of its investigation team.

He said he understood the Lindemann family had paid more than $20 million for the artefacts.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in a statement said the Lindemann family’s decision to return the artefacts set “an excellent and proper example for other museums and private collectors.”

In a June speech to the American Chamber of Commerce, two months before becoming Cambodia’s leader, Prime Minister Hun Manet said the antiquities were national treasures and more than just historical relics.

“They are the blood in our veins and the soul in our hearts that forge the identity of being Khmer… our heritages define who we are and who we will be,” he said.

U.S. authorities have been spent more than a decade working on locating artefacts from Cambodia and have so far repatriated 65. In 2019, art dealer Douglas Latchford was indicted for wire fraud and other crimes related to selling looted Cambodian artefacts, but the charges were dismissed after his death.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin in Hong Kong, additional reporting by Chantha Lach in Phnom Penh; Editing by Martin Petty)