Douglas Latchford’s death reignites unresolved controversy over alleged smuggling of Cambodian antiquities

News of the death of dealer and expert in South East Asian art raises strong reactions and unanswered questions.

“Dying to get away with it: how one defendant’s death may thwart justice for the people of Cambodia, Thailand and India”. This title on a blog posted yesterday by Lynda Albertson, the chief executive of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (Arca), sums up the mixed feelings of journalists and scholars over the news of Douglas Latchford’s recent death in Bangkok, which was revealed on Monday by The Art Newspaper.

After 50 years as one of the leading dealers of South-East Asian art, Douglas Latchford was charged in 2019 in New York with trafficking, but “since deceased persons cannot be prosecuted the charges will likely be dismissed,” Albertson writes. “Before this investigation for the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless antiquities from Cambodia, Thailand and India cast a long shadow over Latchford’s activities, he was once considered a highly respected sponsor in museum circles and a person above reproach,” she recalls.

Albertson laments that the dealer now “takes the unanswered questions to his grave“. In a tweet, the Nepali author and journalist Kanak Mani Dixit calls for the investigation to be continued: “There are many gods, goddesses, bodhisattvas etc. from Nepal in Latchford’s collection. It will be important to investigate and repatriate them to Nepal.”

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