New York — Federal agents have threatened to seize from Sotheby's a 10th-century Cambodian sandstone statue, alleging the auction house planned to sell it despite warnings that looters had stolen the piece from its rightful place, adorning an ancient temple in the former Khmer kingdom.
Court documents filed Wednesday in New York say the Duryodhana statue -- listed as the "Defendant in rem" in the complaint -- was apparently torn from the Prasat Chen Temple in Koh Ker in northern Cambodia sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s, when the Asian nation was engulfed in civil unrest. The statue fell into the hands of a private collector in Belgium, whose heirs recently reached an agreement with Sotheby's to sell it on consignment.
"In April 2010, Sotheby’s imported the Duryodhana into the United States and made arrangements to sell the statue, despite knowing that it was stolen from Koh Ker," according to a statement from U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara in New York.
The statement said that immediately before the planned March 2011 auction, Cambodia's government asked Sotheby's to pull the piece from auction. "Sotheby’s withdrew the statue from the auction, but it remains in their possession," said the statement, which accompanied a 27-page complaint outlining the piece's journey -- from the entrance of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu to a well-heeled auction house in Manhattan.