Norwegian Tight-Lipped on How He Came Across Relics

A Norwegian businessman who Tuesday returned a pair of Khmer artifacts to the Cambodian government was taciturn about how he came to acquire the objects, saying only that he had come to realize that “they belong to the Cambodian people.”

During a handover ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, Morten Bosterud, who runs a chiropractic and acupuncture clinic in Oslo, made a brief speech describing his decision to return a ninth-century “Head of Shiva” statue, a 12th-century “Head of a Male Divinity” statue and nine other pieces that the Ministry of Culture deemed inauthentic.

A statue returned to Cambodia by Norwegian businessman Morten Bosterud is displayed during a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh Tuesday. (Siv Channa)
A statue returned to Cambodia by Norwegian businessman Morten Bosterud is displayed during a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh Tuesday. (Siv Channa)

“I came to realize that the possessions are not to be held by a person like myself. These beautiful artifacts belong to the true owners, the Cambodian people,” Mr. Bosterud said in a speech.

“This means I see myself not as a donor but as returner.”

In an interview after the event—during which Mr. Bosterud was awarded the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Cambodia—the Norwegian refused to say how or when he acquired the items.

“It’s a long story. I have been collecting art for many years,” he said without elaborating.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, who presided over the event with Culture Minister Pheoung Sackona, thanked Mr. Bosterud and his wife for returning the artifacts of their own volition.

“They contacted the Cambodian Embassy in Paris a long time ago, then they paid for the transportation of the statues,” he said.

Darryl Collins, an art historian who worked as an archivist for the National Museum, said that most foreign collectors acquired Khmer antiquities at auction.

“There is no shame or harm in a donation to a museum. It’s a perfectly logical and public spirited thing to do,” he said.

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