Pandora Papers: Hunt for Looted Artifacts Leads to Offshore Trusts

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tags: antiquities, Cambodia, financial crimes, Khmer Empire

For decades, Douglas Latchford cut a romantic figure: The genial Englishman was an explorer of jungle temples, a scholar and a connoisseur seduced by the exquisite details of ancient sculpture.

Helicoptering into remote Cambodia to visit Khmer Empire cities, he risked land mines to satisfy his curiosity. Beginning in the 1970s, he amassed one of the world’s largest private collections of Khmer treasures, mostly Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, the remains of a civilization that flourished in Southeast Asia a thousand years ago. He co-wrote three glossy books on the subject.

“The sculpture and architecture created by the Khmer to honor their gods and their rulers are among the major artistic masterpieces of the world,” he wrote in the first of the three, “Adoration and Glory.”

Yet while Latchford professed reverence for Khmer achievements, he was also trafficking in and profiting from antiquities pillaged from that civilization’s sacred temples, according to U.S. prosecutors, part of a decades-long ransacking of Cambodian sites that ranks as one of the most devastating cultural thefts of the 20th century.

When the United States indicted Latchford in 2019, it seemed at last that hundreds of stolen items he had traded might be identified and returned: Prosecutors demanded the forfeiture of “any and all property” derived from his illicit trade over four decades. But then the 88-year-old Latchford died before trial, leaving unresolved a tantalizing question: What happened to all the money and looted treasures?

The answer lies, at least in part, in previously undisclosed records describing secret offshore companies and trusts that Latchford and his family controlled. The records are part of the Pandora Papers, a cache of more than 11.9 million documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with The Washington Post and other media outlets around the globe.

The trust and corporate registration records obtained by the ICIJ show that three months after U.S. investigators began linking Latchford to looted artifacts, he and family members set up the first of two trusts, named after the Hindu gods Skanda and Siva, on the island of Jersey, a secrecy haven in the Channel Islands between England and France.

Skanda Trust held Latchford’s antiquities collection. Among its scores of treasures were bronzes of Buddha, Lokeshvara and other religious figures. One of the relics was a looted Naga Buddha valued at $1.5 million. Latchford’s assets in Skanda Trust were later transferred to Siva Trust.

Read entire article at New York Times