Douglas Latchford: The Man Who Pillaged Cambodia

Latchford leaves behind a dark legacy of looting and cultural destruction, which will long outlive him.

Douglas Latchford, an English “adventurer” and antiquities collector once feted by royalty, died this month in Thailand — adding his name to a long list of villains who have escaped justice for crimes in the Cambodian Killing Fields.

The public life Latchford cultivated over decades in the penthouses and cricket clubs of Bangkok seems far removed from the armed conflict and mass murder that long raged just over the Cambodian border. It wasn’t. Latchford died under a felony indictment, fighting extradition to the United States for masterminding an organized artifact trafficking network that directly linked art world elites with the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror.

Even today in a crowded global field, no single figure looms as large over a nation’s wholesale pillage. Experts are still uncovering the full picture, but their work has exposed Latchford as “a one-man-supply-and-demand” for Cambodian plunder during the kingdom’s decades of civil war, foreign occupation, and genocide. He laundered much of his loot (and the fakes he commissioned) onto the legitimate market — including American museums from coast to coast — but kept the greatest masterpieces for himself in a collection said to rival that of Cambodia’s National Museum.

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