The Pandora Papers files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveal two secret offshore trusts that an indicted art dealer, Douglas Latchford, used to hold money and ancient relics, including some believed to be looted.
Prompted by the revelation, a cross-newsroom reporting team from the ICIJ, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Spotify and Australian Broadcasting Corporation embarked on a hunt for items that had passed through Latchford’s hands or had traveled through other means into the collections of museums and private individuals.
Using public sources — including museum websites, Latchford’s art books and gallery catalogues — and helped by several experts in Southeast Asian art, the team identified 43 relics with ownership histories tied to Latchford or three of his associates who U.S. authorities said worked with Latchford in the collections of 10 museums: the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the British Museum in London, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the National Gallery of Australia.
Of these relics, 27 passed through Latchford’s hands, according to provenance information provided by the museums. The remaining 16 were sold by an art dealer that prosecutors identified as an associate of Latchford’s who helped sell looted art. The reporting team also traced Latchford-linked items to another three private collectors and galleries.
The reporting team asked all museums about the relics tied to Latchford, and here are their responses:
— Asian Art Museum of San Francisco — Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture
“As curiosity about provenance and the story behind our collection formation increased, we have sought to provide as much context as we can given our resources and the information available,” the museum said.
About pieces in its collection that were associated with either Spink & Son, one of Latchford’s collaborators, or art dealer Doris Wiener, also a Latchford associate, the museum said: “Our presumption decades ago, when these objects were donated to our collection or acquired by dedicated funds for their purchase, was that they had left their places of origin in a legal manner. Today, and especially following the 2008 stance taken by the Association of Art Museum Directors towards objects and artworks with unclear provenance, our response is categorically different — now we would not accept any artwork without thorough documentation of the path it took from its place of origin to the museum.”
— British Museum
“Research into the history of the collection as a whole, and of individual objects, is ongoing,” the British Museum said. “Many objects have been a part of the collection for decades or even centuries, so it’s not always possible to know their full history. The process of acquisition and record keeping has developed significantly in recent times. Some ways in which objects entered the British Museum are no longer current or acceptable, though others remain familiar and inform best practice. We also reiterated that we take this issue of provenance very seriously.”
— Brooklyn Museum
“The Brooklyn Museum has recently enhanced its efforts to research and document provenance, but that move was not motivated by the Latchford indictment,” the museum said. “Research on the Cambodian collection was already underway and remains one of many focal points for provenance work at the museum.”
— Cleveland Museum of Art
“The Cleveland Museum of Art has never acquired an object directly from Douglas Latchford,” the museum said. The museum does own “three Southeast Asian works of art” with the name Douglas Latchford in provenance records, it said. It added: “It may be worth noting that the Cleveland Museum of Art has a strong, collaborative relationship with Cambodia and a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.”
— Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum said it is “in ongoing discussions with both U.S. and Cambodian governments” about items in the museum’s collection connected with Latchford. The museum “will reserve further comment until the conclusion of those conversations,” it said. “As stewards of a global collection, the museum gathers facts prior to deaccessioning and repatriating an object.”
— Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art did not comment and declined to answer reporters’ questions.
— Metropolitan Museum of Art
“The Museum has followed the case against Douglas Latchford and has reviewed the indictment against him that references a Hari-Hara,” the museum said. “The Museum did acquire a Hari-Hara in 1977 from Spink & Son. It is unknown whether the Hari-Hara, a relatively common depiction of Vishnu and Shiva, are one and the same. The Met continues to have a long-standing collaborative relationship with the Cambodian government, with many ongoing loans and partnerships. With the return of the two Koh Ker statutes in 2013, considered ‘historic’ by Cambodian officials, the Museum led the way to other repatriations to Cambodia and cemented this relationship. The Museum remains committed to pursuing further research — and sharing findings widely — on this and all archaeological objects in the Museum’s collection.
“More broadly, Met is committed to the responsible acquisition of archaeological art and applies rigorous provenance standards both to new acquisitions and the study of works long in its collection in an ongoing effort to learn as much as possible about ownership history. The Museum also has a long and well documented history of responding to claims regarding works of art, restituting objects where appropriate, being transparent about the provenance of works in the collection, and supporting further research and scholarship by sharing all known ownership history on metmuseum.org.”
— Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“We scrutinize the provenance of every ancient work of art proposed for acquisition or incoming loan, documenting the country of origin and country of modern discovery, the legislation of those source countries, the object’s ownership and sales history, as well as international shipments to ensure we are not accepting anything illegally imported or exported,” the museum said. “Our records online are as complete and transparent as possible, so if law enforcement authorities or a representative of a foreign nation wishes to make a claim, they can easily do so.”
— Walters Art Museum
The museum confirmed that a piece in its collection was provenanced to Spink & Son, but that “according to WAM’s records there is no indication that [the piece] went through Latchford’s hands.”
— National Gallery of Australia
“Over the past seven years the National Gallery has undertaken significant work in provenance research which has led to the deaccessioning of 24 works,” the museum said. “We have also undertaken the development of a comprehensive Provenance and Due Diligence Policy and Provenance Decision-Making Framework.” The museum said that the piece tied to Latchford was “the subject of a significant live investigation,” the results of which weren’t available at the time of publication.
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The Pandora Papers is an investigation based on more than 11.9 million documents revealing the flows of money, property and other assets concealed in the offshore financial system. The Washington Post and other news organizations exposed the involvement of political leaders, examined the growth of the industry within the United States and demonstrated how secrecy shields assets from governments, creditors and those abused or exploited by the wealthy and powerful. The trove of confidential information, the largest of its kind, was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which organized the investigation.