The Duryodhana, a 10th century sandstone sculpture that was looted in the 1970s, has been returned to Cambodia. Photo courtesy ICE.

After being pried from a temple, beheaded and offered for auction, a statue has been returned to Cambodia. Below is a rundown on the case from customs enforcement:

Cambodian officials recognize HSI for return of ancient sandstone sculpture
May 7, 2014

NEW YORK — At a May 7 ceremony in New York, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York were commemorated by the Kingdom of Cambodia Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sok An for the return of the Duryodhana, a 10th century sandstone sculpture.

The return of the Duryodhana follows the settlement of a civil forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which alleged that the Duryodhana was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in 1972 by an organized looting network, and ultimately imported into the United States and offered for sale by Sotheby’s Inc.

The settlement required Sotheby’s and the customer selling the Duryodhana, Decia Ruspoli de Poggia Suasa, to return the sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

According to an amended complaint filed in Manhattan federal court April 2013, and other documents filed in the case, from 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. The Khmer regime under Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Chen temple and its statuary. These monuments have never been transferred to any private owner, and remain the property of the Cambodian state.

During the civil conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, statues and other artifacts were stolen from Koh Ker and entered the international art market through an organized looting network. In the case of monumental statues like the Duryodhana, the heads would sometimes be forcibly detached from the torsos and transported first, with the torsos following later, due to the physical challenges of transporting the large torsos on dirt roads.

The statues would then be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border, and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts in Thailand, particularly Bangkok. These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market.

The Duryodhana, along with a companion statue, the Bhima, was stolen from Prasat Chen in 1972 via this looting network. The heads of the statues were removed and transported first, followed by the torsos, and ultimately delivered to a Thai dealer based in Bangkok. The Duryodhana and the Bhima were then obtained by a well-known collector of Khmer antiquities. The Duryodhana was sold to a Belgian businessman in 1975 and was ultimately transferred to his widow, Ruspoli.

In 2010, Ruspoli consigned the Duryodhana to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s imported it into the United States and offered it for sale in 2011.