Sotheby’s Sells Stolen Art


The feet of this statue are still in the Prasat Chen Temple in Northern Cambodia. Court documents filled by Federal agents in New York say the statue was literally ripped from a temple pedestal in the 1960s or early 1970s, when Cambodia was embroiled in civil war.  

According to the LA Times, Cambodian officials notified Sotheby’s that the statue was looted during civil unrest; Cambodian government officials were in “negotiations” with Sotheby’s. Negotiations ended when the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York stepped in on Wednesday (April 4), filing a suit.

Internal emails quoted by the Times, show that Sotheby’s mocked concerned parties as “temple huggers,” and said profits from the sale would make it “worth the risk.”

American attorney, Tess Davis, told the Times that a study of Sotheby’s sales shows that 71% of Cambodian objects the auction house has sold had no documentation of ownership – suggesting that they were all obtained on the black market.

Other art looted during wartime has shown up at Sotheby’s, such as a missing, jewel encrusted plate, that was stolen from the Dar-al-Athar museum collection in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion in 1990.  It appeared in Sotheby’s London catalogue in 1996. (It was returned.)   

  • Kuwaiti authorities estimate over 400 pieces looted during the Iraqi invasion are still missing from the museums, and from private collections.
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum returned 40 objects to Italy, after Swiss authorities raided a warehouse in Geneva containing antiquities stolen from archeological sites, and documentation showing they were sold to the Getty. While Marion True, the Getty’s curator of antiquities at the time, and her “supplier” (i.e. fence), lucked out of a conviction due to Italy’s statute of limitations on the case, the actual grave robber is in jail because he requested a speedy trial.
  • During the recent civil unrest in Greece, museum robbers made off with a Picasso, and other paintings by famous artists. “Austerity” measures imposed on that country by their European neighbors have forced Greece to cut back on paying for security at their numerous museums.

4 Responses to Sotheby’s Sells Stolen Art

  1. La colección iniciada en 1920 por Josef Mueller, luego continuada por su yerno, Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller y que el día 22 de marzo será subastada por Sotheby’s de Francia ES ILEGAL pues desde el 2 de abril de 1822 la normativa peruana prohíbe la salida de bienes arqueológicos sin autorización del Gobierno

  2. The collection started in 1920 by Josef Mueller, then continued by his son, Jean-Paul Barbier-Mueller and that March 22 will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in France is illegal because since April 2, 1822 Peruvian law prohibits the output of archaeological without government permission

  3. t.a. says:

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Peru is seeking the return of 67 objects set for auction this March (2013). Peru successfully retrieved thousands of stolen objects from Yale University last November.

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