Trahan Presses Met and DOJ on Cambodian Art Investigations
Washington, May 12, 2023
LOWELL, MA – Yesterday, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), Chair of the Congressional Cambodia Caucus, sent letters to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the U.S. Department of Justice requesting further action by both parties in the investigation of the museum’s Cambodian artifact collection. The request follows Trahan’s first letter in November 2022 as well as a recent return of 77 similar artifacts to Cambodia in February 2023.
“As you know, I wrote to you on November 18, 2022, regarding my concerns that the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the “Met”) had multiple Cambodian artifacts in its collection that may have been stolen from Cambodia. The seriousness of these allegations and the importance of expeditiously determining the true provenance of these artifacts cannot be overstated. In addition to the moral and legal implications of acquiring and possessing stolen art, this issue hits closer to home,” Congresswoman Trahan wrote. “I have heard from Cambodian Americans in the communities I represent who expressed concern that the Met is potentially holding stolen Cambodian artwork. These constituents are understandably eager to see this issue resolved.”
Starting in 1983, the Met acquired multiple Cambodian artifacts from Douglas A.J. Latchford, who was charged in November 2019 with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, substantive wire fraud, and the smuggling of numerous artifacts. The charges were dropped after Latchford passed away a year later, but the accusations clearly highlight the significant possibility that the artifacts Latchford provided were stolen from Cambodia.
In February, a collection of 77 Cambodian jewels and jewelry owned by Latchford’s estate were returned to the people of Cambodia. The latest collection of looted artifacts sent back to their rightful home follows action by the DOJ last August to return 30 statues, artworks, and other artifacts sold by Latchford before his death to the Southeast Asian nation.
In the letter sent to the Met, Trahan requested a thorough update on its investigation, a deadline to make a determination on the provenance of these artifacts, and a commitment from the Met to return the pieces to the people of Cambodia if they were stolen. All of these asks went unanswered in the letter she received from the Met in response to her November 2022 letter.
In the letter sent to the DOJ, Trahan requested that the department continue investigating this important issue, and should the investigation conclude that the Met possesses stolen artifacts, she requested the DOJ do everything possible to expedite the return of the artifacts to the people of Cambodia.