Sotheby's Repatriates Cambodian Statue

After a two-year legal battle, Sotheby’s has agreed to return a 10th-century sandstone statue that was pillaged from the Koh Ker temple complex deep in the Cambodian jungle in the 1970s.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are happy about this repatriation of Cambodian patrimony.

The 500lb statue, the Duryodhana, was sent for sale in 2011 by Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, who had owned the piece since it was bought from Spink in London in 1975.

Sotheby’s valued the statue at $2m-$3m and it was put on the cover of an antiquities sale in New York.

However, the statue was quickly withdrawn from sale when it became the subject of a federal US lawsuit, with prosecutors seeking its forfeiture on the grounds that it had been looted from Cambodia and illegally imported into the US.

Now the case has been resolved, with Sotheby’s agreeing to pay to send the statue back to representatives of the kingdom of Cambodia in New York.

Ruspoli will not receive any compensation, and the court decided that there was a “good faith disagreement” over whether both the owner and the auction house knew of the statue’s true provenance. “Further litigation would be burdensome,” US attorney Preet Bharara concluded.

This should encourage the return of a second statue, Duryodhana’s twin, which is now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California: officials are now expected to travel to Cambodia to discuss this. The institution bought the statue in 1976 from the now-deceased New York dealer William Wolff.