D.A. Bragg Returns 11th Century Antiquity to Cambodia

March 31, 2023

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the return of the Khmer Lintel, an antiquity dating to the 11th century that was looted from Cambodia during the 1990s. The piece was returned during a repatriation ceremony with the Cambodian Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Mr. Chhea KEO and Thomas Acocella, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York.

“This is a beautiful piece that has been sitting in a private collection and hidden from the public view due to the actions of selfish looters,” said District Attorney Bragg. “We will continue to make clear that stolen antiquities passing through Manhattan will be tracked down and returned to their countries of origin.”

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to all those who have supported us in the fight to prevent the smuggling of our artifacts and facilitate their return, particularly the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Department of Homeland Security. I call on public collectors to return any stolen artifacts they have to the people of Cambodia, which would help our citizens heal from decades of trauma and restore our cultural soul,” said Cambodian Ambassador to the United States Keo Chhea.

“As the foremost federal agency investigating the looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property, HSI New York is proud to partner with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to return this sandstone relief from the Khmer culture of ancient Cambodia to its rightful home,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “HSI will continue to work with our domestic and international partners to aggressively target those who seek to pilfer a nation’s cultural treasures and return them to their rightful home for future generations to enjoy.”

The Khmer Lintel formed the support for a temple door in Cambodia. The carvings on the piece feature a scene of dancing celestial deities, or apsaras. Looted during the 1990s, the Khmer Lintel was smuggled from Cambodia into Thailand in 1995. Once in Bangkok, the piece was sold by a local dealer to an American collector. It remained in a private collection in Manhattan until October 2022, when it was seized by the Office.

In November 2022, the Office repatriated the Standing Sandstone Vishnu to Cambodia, which was looted at the direction of DORIS WIENER, a well-known antiquities trafficker.

During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) has recovered almost 800 antiquities stolen from 26 countries and valued at more than $135 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered nearly 4,500 antiquities stolen from 28 countries and valued at approximately $380 million.
Under District Attorney Bragg, the (ATU) has also repatriated more than 950 antiquities stolen from 17 countries and valued at approximately $180 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned nearly 2,500 antiquities to 23 countries and valued at almost $250 million.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigation, which was conducted by Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analyst Allison Stacy, and Special Agents Robert Fromkin and Christopher Rommeney of Homeland Security Investigations.