Accused Art Trafficker’s Estate Forfeits $12 Million to End Case

Federal officials announced Thursday that the daughter of an accused antiquities trafficker had agreed to forfeit $12 million from his estate as part of a settlement of a civil case that accused her father of profiting from the sale of stolen Cambodian artifacts.

The daughter of Douglas A.J. Latchford, a scholar and dealer of ancient Khmer artifacts who died in 2020, also agreed to turn over a seventh-century bronze statue from Vietnam that the federal authorities said had been bought by Latchford with illegally obtained funds.

Latchford’s daughter, identified in court papers as Julia Copleston, inherited more than 125 statues and gold relics that authorities contend were looted from Cambodia, as well as an undetermined amount of money from her father.

In 2021 she reached an agreement with the Cambodian government to ship back those items. Negotiations have been ongoing since then over Latchford’s financial accounts.

“The late Douglas Latchford was a prolific dealer of stolen antiquities,” Ivan J. Arvelo, a special agent in charge with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “His complicity in numerous illicit transactions over several decades garnered him millions of dollars in payments from buyers and dealers in the United States, of which as part of this agreement, $12 million will be rightfully forfeited by his estate.”

Latchford was indicted in 2019 by federal prosecutors in New York who accused him of trafficking in looted Cambodian relics and of falsifying documents and said he had “built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often straight from archaeological sites.” But the indictment was dismissed after Latchford’s death the following year at 88.

A seventh-century statue of the Hindu deity Durga. It is being surrendered by Latchford’s daughter, Julia Copleston, as part of a settlement to end a civil case that accused her father of antiquities trafficking.Credit…via U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

In recent years, Toek Tik, a reformed looter who said he had directed a ring that pillaged Khmer-era temples for two decades, came forward to identify areas of Cambodia where he helped to loot various antiquities. Some of the most illustrious artifacts that Toek Tik says he stole were ultimately put on the market by Latchford, he said. According to Toek Tik’s account, Latchford directed much of the looting through an intermediary, even browsing temple photographs taken by Toek Tik to decide which items should be stolen.

The Cambodian government has had some success in recent years in trying to get back looted antiquities and has pursued multiple museums in the United States and elsewhere.

Currently pending are talks between Cambodia and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Cambodian officials say they believe dozens of looted objects are held, some of which were given or sold to the museum by Latchford.

In their announcement, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which handled the civil case, said that as part of his sales, Latchford provided false provenance records or made false statements on shipping and import records when antiquities were brought into the United States. The officials said Latchford maintained bank accounts in Britain, New York and the island of Jersey, and that he transferred at least $12 million in tainted proceeds to his bank accounts in Jersey.

The officials said that the disposition of the funds once they are received will be decided later by the U.S. Justice Department.

The forfeited seventh-century bronze statue depicts the four-armed goddess Durga, and federal officials said it had been stolen from a UNESCO World Heritage site in Vietnam. Latchford’s role in the theft was confirmed, the officials said, by emails recovered from his computer.

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