Denver museum to return looted relics to Cambodia after U.S. moves to seize them

The repatriation comes weeks after Pandora Papers reporting identified dozens of antiquities linked to an accused trafficker in the collections of major art institutions.

Decades after they were looted from temples and other historical sites in Southeast Asia, four ancient artifacts at the Denver Art Museum are heading home.

The museum has agreed to turn over the relics to the U.S. government, which plans to return them to their native Cambodia, according to a forfeiture complaint filed Monday in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The items include a likeness of the goddess of transcendent wisdom, called the Prajnaparamita, and one of the sun god Surya.

The repatriation announcement comes amid mounting pressure by U.S. and Cambodian authorities on prominent art institutions to reexamine their collections of Khmer art, especially pieces acquired over decades of unrest in Cambodia, when looters stole vast numbers of culturally significant antiquities. And it closely follows an investigation by The Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which reported in October that 10 museums — among them the Denver Art Museum — hold 43 relics in their collections linked to a notorious indicted art dealer, Douglas Latchford, who died before he could be tried.

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