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US to return ancient statue to Cambodia

Sok An, Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister, speaks during a ceremony held to commemorate the return of the Duryodhana sculpture on May 7, 2014 at the US Attorney's office in New York
Sok An, Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister, speaks during a ceremony held to commemorate the return of the Duryodhana sculpture on May 7, 2014 at the US Attorney's office in New York

An ancient statue of a warrior stolen in 1972 and which almost went on the auction block three years ago will be returned to Cambodia, US authorities said Wednesday.

The 10th-century sandstone "Duryodhana bondissant" was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia and first sold at auction in London in 1975.

It was supposed to have come back on the auction block at Sotheby's in New York in March 2011 but the sale was stopped after Cambodian authorities made an appeal through UNESCO.

The Koh Ker site is significant from a religious, historical, and artistic perspective, and the Duryodhana is considered a piece of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people and part of their cultural heritage.

At a ceremony with Sok An, a Cambodian deputy prime minister, District Attorney Preet Bharara hailed the happy ending and return to Cambodia of "a priceless piece of art, a priceless part of Cambodia's unique cultural history."

"After almost two years of litigation the (private) sellers have agreed to return it to where it belongs, the Kingdom of Cambodia," he added.

The statue, 1.58 meters (five feet) tall and weighing almost 110 kilos (242 pounds), was part of a group of two fighters. The second statue, "Bhima," was bought in 1976 by the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

After months of discussions, the US museum also agreed to return its statue to Cambodia, according to Sok An.

"Duryodhana's" homecoming is expected in June, officials said, and it is hoped that "Bhima" will follow around the same time.

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