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US Returns 27 Stolen Antiquities Including Hindu, Angkorian Buddhist Statues to Cambodia

Cambodia's Ambassador to the United States Chum Sounry (R) stands next to antiquities to be repatriated to Cambodia during a news conference at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, in New York. (Credit: REUTERS

Cambodia's Ambassador to the United States Chum Sounry (R) stands next to antiquities to be repatriated to Cambodia during a news conference at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, in New York. (Credit: REUTERS

Valued at about $3.8 million, the items included several Hindu and Angkorian Buddhist statues, such as a bronze meditating Buddha on a Naga, a statue of Shiva among others.

The United States has repatriated 27 antiquities to Cambodia, including Hindu and Buddhist statues, after years of work by New York investigators to recover the smuggled artefacts. Valued at about $3.8 million, the items included several Hindu and Angkorian Buddhist statues, such as a bronze meditating Buddha on a Naga, a statue of Shiva, and a Buddhist sandstone sculpture of Prajnaparamita. “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," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr said in a statement.

Cambodia’s Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Phoeurng Sackona said the antiquities were the “missing souls" of the country’s ancestors.

The Cambodian items were among nearly 400 being returned to 10 countries after investigations by Manhattan’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Homeland Security Investigations.

US authorities last week returned to Thailand stone carvings stolen decades ago, which had been on display at a San Francisco museum. Two stolen hand-carved religious artifacts, sandstone lintels dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries, were returned to the Thai government in a ceremony more than 50 years overdue. The 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) antiquities had been stolen and exported from Thailand — a violation of Thai law — roughly a half-century ago.

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The lintels had been exhibited at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. San Francisco, which owns the museum, agreed to hand over the ancient sandstone slabs following a three-year investigation by the US Department of Homeland Security and a civil lawsuit. The lintels had been structural parts of two religious sanctuaries in northeastern Thailand.

Records showed that the lintels had been obtained by a collector in galleries in London and Paris in the 1960s, according to the civil complaint. The collector, Avery Brundage, was apparently aware that at least one of the lintels had been illegally taken out of Thailand, the complaint states.

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