The Government of Cambodia has been criticized for its undemocratic ways and its border disputes with Thailand. Yet, the US State Department, its Cultural Heritage Center, and its allies in the archaeological community-- including the Department of State funded “Heritage Watch” --have been instrumental in imposing broad restrictions on cultural goods from Cambodia. This, despite the wide availability of this material in markets abroad and the forthright admission by Cambodia’s representative at the most recent CPAC hearing that the Cambodian Army is deeply involved in the supply of ancient Cambodian artifacts to world markets. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/09/cambodian-import-restrictions-extended.html
Now, the Government, again supported by the archaeological lobby, is seeking to seize a Cambodian artifact from Sotheby’s based on allegations that the statute was stolen from an archaeological site, presumably during the dislocation associated with fall of the US-Supported Cambodian government during the aftermath of the Vietnam war. See : http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/arts/design/ancient-cambodian-statue-is-seized-from-sothebys.html?_r=1
My advice to Sotheby’s would be to fight. Experience teaches that press reports sourced to the archaeological lobby may not provide either a complete or accurate depiction of the actual strength of the Government’s case. If SLAM can prevail, perhaps Sotheby’s can as well.
The seizure does, however, suggests that Sotheby’s hiring of a former prosecutor, Jane Levine, has not protected Sotheby’s and its consigners from the aggressive repatriation efforts of the US Government.
Moreover, the seizure raises further questions about whether Jane Levine can serve as an effective member of CPAC or whether her defense of Sotheby’s import of the statue for auction raises conflict of interest issues that cannot be adequately addressed.