|US lawyer visits site of stolen Cambodian statue in Sotheby’s hands
A US government lawyer assisting Cambodia’s legal bid to make auction house Sotheby's return a 10th century Khmer statue toured the site from which the artifact was looted, an official said.
Assistant US Attorney Sharon Levin visited the Koh Ker temple, 80 kilometers northeast of Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat complex, where the pedestal and feet of the contested sandstone statue, known as the Duryodhana, remain, AFP reports.
“She led a delegation to collect more data at the site in Koh Ker temple where the statue was looted,’’ government spokesman Ek Tha told AFP.
Levin, who heads the US government's asset forfeiture office, arrived in Phnom Penh Sunday.
Cambodia says the ancient statue of a warrior was looted and US authorities filed a civil complaint last April against Sotheby's, blocking them from selling the item.
The statue’s origin is not under dispute. It made a pair with another statue that is also in the United States, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.
Experts widely agree both that the statues are a prime example of the best of Khmer art – the pair are locked in battle, and depict motion, which is unique among statues from the period – and that they were looted in the 1970s.
The US Attorney's office said in a statement last year that the Duryodhana statue was “stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia.’’
“The Koh Ker site is very significant [and] the Duryodhana is considered to be a piece of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people and part of their cultural heritage,’’ the statement said.
A court then ordered Sotheby’s, which insists the statue valued at US$2-US$3 million can be sold legitimately, not to sell or transfer the work. Sotheby's is currently holding onto the work but its future is unclear.
According to prosecutors, Sotheby's imported the statue in April 2010 “and made arrangement to sell the statue, despite knowing it was stolen from Koh Ker.’’
But Sotheby's denied doing anything wrong, saying previously that it “strongly disputes the allegations.’’
The row began in early 2011 shortly before a planned March 24 auction, when Cambodia's government sent a letter through UNESCO claiming ownership of the 10th century work. Sotheby's stopped the sale.