In Cambodia (as elsewhere), looting and smuggling are associated with poverty and corruption. Academic collusion is key to the ostensibly legal antiquities market. (Dr. Emma Bunker, who confirmed that Sotheby’s statue was ‘definitely stolen’, nonetheless advised them to sell the statue privately, or to sell the statue publicly without mentioning the scene of the crime, but either way to ignore legal advice.) And it is an illicit trade steeped in blood.
The ostensibly legal market in Cambodian antiquities is large and visible, despite the equally large and visible question marks on the bodies of suspiciously-damaged, suspiciously-collected, ‘Angkor Wat-style‘ (Khmer and other) statues that are sold in international auctions and art galleries.
Ta Mok, the senior Khmer Rouge leader known as The Butcher and Brother Number 5, may well have played a personal role in the removal of ancient statues from Koh Ker. This lends support to the notion that looted Khmer objects at museums around the world should be considered “blood antiquities” [and returned].
1: Paralleling the language of the diamond trade, blood commodities are those that involve human rights violations (normally) in their extraction/production; conflict commodities are those that are stolen, smuggled and/or sold to fund political violence.