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Stolen 7th-century bronze statue returned to Vietnam

Stolen 7th-century bronze statue returned to Vietnam

Thursday, September 14, 2023, 20:15 GMT+7
Stolen 7th-century bronze statue returned to Vietnam
The seventh-century bronze statue of four-armed goddess Durga. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Vietnam received a seventh-century bronze statue of four-armed goddess Durga from the family of British antiques smuggler Douglas Latchford at a ceremony in London on Wednesday afternoon.

The UNESCO recognized the statue, which is some two meters high and weighs about 250 kilograms, as world heritage.

It was stolen from the My Son Sanctuary in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam in 2008.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the UK Nguyen Hoang Long, Minister Counsellor To Minh Thu, and U.S. and British officials attended the ceremony to hand over the statue to Vietnam.

On June 22, the U.S. Department of Justice said the U.S. filed and settled a civil forfeiture action against US$12 million derived from the sale of stolen Southeast Asian antiquities by UK antiques dealer Douglas Latchford.

In particular, Latchford was indicted for organized fraud conspiracy and other crimes in 2019. 

He earned more than $12 million from the sale of stolen and smuggled Southeast Asian antiquities to buyers and dealers in the U.S. between 2003 and 2020.

He bought the seventh-century bronze statue depicting the four-armed goddess Durga in 2008 and 2009.

The statue is carefully wrapped up before being handed over to Vietnam.

The statue is carefully wrapped up before being handed over to Vietnam.

According to bank and email records, Latchford arrived in Vietnam in November 2008 to purchase an artwork and asked his bankers to send some $2 million to the bank account of a person with a Vietnamese email address. 

In January 2009, Latchford emailed an antiques dealer a photo of the goddess Durga statue lying on its back, covered with dust and minerals, indicating that the statue had just been excavated.

He identified the statue as having been recovered from the My Son Sanctuary.  

The Vietnamese Embassy in the UK contacted and worked with relevant British bodies to take back the statue after receiving information from the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S..

After Latchford died in 2020, his daughter Julia Copleston inherited 125 statues, including the four-armed goddess Durga statue.

Copleston agreed to hand over the statue to Vietnam.

At the ceremony to receive the statue, Ambassador Long, on behalf of the Vietnamese government, thanked the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the British police for their coordination to return the statue to Vietnam, saying that the handover was conducted when Vietnam and the UK celebrate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year and Vietnam and the U.S. had elevated their bilateral ties to comprehensive strategic partnership, the highest level in the Southeast Asian country's international relations.

Long added the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK will cooperate closely with domestic agencies to safely transport the statue to Vietnam.

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Tuoi Tre News - Vietnam News Agency

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