The family of the late American billionaire George Lindemann has voluntarily agreed to return 33 stolen artifacts to Cambodia. The decision was announced by the United States Attorney's Office. It is important to note that the Lindemann family is not facing any legal charges and this is a voluntary action on the part of the family.
The artifacts include works of art taken from two historic sites, Angkor Wat, a temple complex that is one of the largest religious monuments in the world, and Koh Ker, a 10th-century town on the island of Cambodia. The collection includes various statues of gods, angels, and demons from the 10th and 12th centuries from Koh Ker, as well as the famous temple of Angkor Wat. Both sites were part of the Khmer Empire, which at its height controlled much of Indochina with its capital at Angkor.
The artifacts, currently in the possession of the Lindemann family, are expected to be returned to Cambodia by the end of this year. The repatriation process is being overseen by Bradley Gordon, an attorney who is advising the Cambodian government and leading the investigative team on this matter.
Archaeological sites in Cambodia suffered widespread looting during the civil war from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Cambodian government has made efforts over the years to recover these historical artifacts. Many of these artifacts, such as intricately carved reliefs and nearly life-size statues of warriors in battle, quickly made their way from remote areas of Cambodia to the international art market. These artifacts were then sold at auctions in New York, and most eventually became part of the private collections of wealthy Americans and Europeans. Today, however, some of these artifacts are on display in American museums.
Cambodians, many of whom regard the statues of the Khmer Empire as symbols of their ancestry, were victims of one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century. In the 1970s, nearly a quarter of the population perished under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodia's Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, said in a statement that the return of the artifacts has a very important impact on the reconciliation and healing process of the Cambodian people.
As part of the repatriation effort, the United States also returned several historical artifacts to Cambodia in 2021 and 2022. In 2021, the United States returned 27 antiquities that had been smuggled into Cambodia, including Hindu and Buddhist statues valued at approximately $3.8 million.
During the previous year, 30 other ancient artifacts were also returned, some of which were more than 1,000 years old. In the same year, the co-founder of Netscape, James Clark, agreed to hand over Khmer statues valued at approximately 35 million dollars. To date, U.S. authorities have spent over a decade locating and returning artifacts from Cambodia, and have repatriated 65 artifacts.
- Reuters. (2023, September 13). Family of late U.S. billionaire return looted artifacts to Cambodia. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/style/us-billionaire-family-agree-return-looted-artifacts-to-cambodia/index.html
- Campbell, M. (2023, September 15). Family of Florida Billionaire Agrees to Return Statues to Cambodia. Bloomberg.com. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2023-09-14/cambodian-statues-owned-by-billionaire-george-lindemann-returned