The Met to Return 16 Statues to Cambodia and Thailand Over Trafficking Concerns
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The Met to Return 16 Statues to Cambodia and Thailand Over Trafficking Concerns

The Khmer-era sculptures are linked to an art dealer suspected of selling looted antiquities, authorities said

Wed, Dec 20, 2023 9:13amGrey Clock 2 min

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to return 14 sculptures to Cambodia and two to Thailand, removing from its collection all Khmer-era artworks associated with an art dealer accused of selling antiquities illegally.

The Met said Friday it will temporarily display a selection of the 16 sculptures while arrangements are made for their repatriation. The works were made between the ninth and 14th centuries in the Angkorian period, the museum said. The Khmer empire ruled much of what is now Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam from about 802 to 1431.

The sculptures are associated with art dealer Douglas Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which said he orchestrated a multiyear scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market. The indictment was dropped after Latchford’s death in 2020. Authorities later secured a $12 million civil forfeiture against his estate for stolen Southeast Asian antiquities they alleged Latchford had sold.

The Met said it cooperated with authorities in the U.S. and Cambodia following Latchford’s indictment and received information that made it clear the sculptures should be returned.

“The Met is pleased to enter into this agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office, and greatly values our open dialogue with Cambodia and Thailand,” said Max Hollein, the director and chief executive of the Met.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement Latchford was believed to have run “a vast antiquities trafficking network,” an allegation Latchford had denied. He urged cultural institutions and private collectors to remain vigilant about antiquity trafficking.

Many countries and cultures that were colonised have for decades asked institutions to return stolen artefacts. That effort has gained more traction in recent years, with many museums now openly acknowledging that some items in collections were gained through colonial exploitation and looting.

The Cambodian government in recent years has asked the Met and other museums to return artworks taken from their countries of origin under murky circumstances.

In 2013, the Met returned two 10th-century Cambodian stone statues, known as the “Kneeling Attendants,” which were also associated with Latchford. The statues were from the Koh Ker temple in the same province as the Angkor Wat temples. Officials said they believe they were stolen from the temple in the 1970s. The Met had acquired the statues from donors between 1987 and 1992, it said at the time.

One of the most high-profile repatriation efforts involves the Benin Bronzes, West African artefacts stolen more than a century ago from what is now Nigeria.

Roughly 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts were pillaged from the Kingdom of Benin by British soldiers in the late-19th century as the U.K. expanded its colonial empire in West Africa.

Many of the Benin Bronzes—a name used to cover a variety of artwork, including carved elephant tusks, brass plaques, and wooden heads—wound up in private collections and museums in Europe and the U.S. The Met returned three artifacts to Nigeria in 2021.


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Few of the U.S.’s philanthropic foundations invest their endowment assets—totalling an estimated US$1.1 trillion—to create positive social and environmental change in addition to high returns, potentially limiting or even counteracting the good such organisations do.

Exactly how few isn’t precisely known. But Bridgespan Social Impact, a subsidiary of the New York-based Bridgespan Group along with the Capricorn Investment Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based investment firm founded by Jeff Skoll , the first president of eBay, and the Skoll Foundation, also in Palo Alto, attempted to “get the conservation started,” with a study of 65 foundations with a total of about US$89 billion in assets, according to Mandira Reddy, director at Capricorn Investment Group.

The top-line conclusion: 5% of the primarily U.S.-based foundations surveyed invest their assets for impact. Most surprising is that 92% of these organisations, which have assets ranging from US$11 million to US$16 billion, are active members of impact investing groups, such as the Global Impact Investing Network and Mission Investors Exchange.

“If there’s any pool of capital that is best suited for impact investing, it would be this pool of capital along with family office money,” Reddy says.

The study was also conducted “to draw attention to the opportunity,” she said.

“We want to redefine what philanthropy can achieve. There is massive potential here just given the scale of capital.”

Foundations are required by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to grant 5% of their assets each year to charity; in practice they have granted slightly more in the last 10 years—an average of 7% of their assets, according to Delaware-based FoundationMark, which tracks the investment performance of about 97% of all foundation assets.

The remaining assets of these foundations are invested with the intention of earning the “highest-possible risk-adjusted financial returns,” the report said. Those investments allow these organizations to grant funds often in perpetuity.

Capricorn and Bridgespan argue that more foundations, however, need to “align their capital with their missions,” and that they can do so while still achieving high returns.

“Why wait to distribute resources far into the future when there are numerous urgent issues facing the planet and communities today,” argue the authors of a report on the research, which is titled, “Can Foundation Endowments Achieve Greater Impact.”

The fact most of the foundations surveyed are very familiar with impact investing and yet haven’t taken the leap “highlights the persistently untapped opportunity,” the report said. It details some of the barriers foundations can face in shifting to impact, and how and why to overcome them.

Hurdles to making a shift can include “beginner’s dilemma”—simply not knowing where to start—and a misperception on the part of large foundations that impact investing is “too niche,” offering opportunities that are too small for the amount of capital they need to allocate. Other foundations are too stretched and don’t have the resources to add capabilities for making impact investments, the report said.

One of the biggest concerns is financial performance. Some foundation leaders, for instance, worry impact investments lead to so-called concessionary returns, where a market rate of return is sacrificed to achieve a social or environmental benefit. Those investments exist, but there are also plenty of options that offer financial returns.

The authors make a case for foundations to “go big,” into impact to realize the best outcomes, and to take a portfolio approach, meaning integrating impact principles into how they approach all investments. To make this happen, foundations need to incorporate impact into their investment policy statements, which determine how they allocate assets.

It will be difficult for foundations that want to shift their assets to impact to pull out of investments such as private-equity or venture-capital funds that can have holdings periods of a decade. But with a policy statement in place, a foundation’s investment team can reinvest this long-term capital once it is returned into impact investing options, she says.

“The transition doesn’t happen overnight,” Reddy says. “Even if there is a commitment for an established foundation that is already fully invested, it takes several years to get there.”

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, revised its investment policy statement in 2006 to incorporate impact. According to the report, the foundation initially divested of investments that were not in sync with its values, and then gradually, working with Capricorn Investment, began exploring impact opportunities mostly in early-stage companies developing solutions to climate change.

“As the team gained more knowledge and experience in this work, and as more investment opportunities arose, the impact-aligned portfolio expanded across different asset classes, issue areas, and fund managers,” the report said.

As of 2022, 70% of the Skoll Foundation’s assets are in impact investments addressing climate change, inclusive capitalism, health and wellness, and sustainable markets.

Capricorn, which manages US$9 billion for foundations and institutional investors through impact investments, constructs portfolios across asset classes. In private markets, this can include venture, private equity, private credit, real estate, and infrastructure. There are also impact options in the public markets, in both stocks and bonds.

“Across the spectrum there are opportunities available now to do this in an authentic manner while preserving financial goals,” Reddy says.

Of the foundations surveyed, about 15, including Skoll, have 50% or more of their assets invested for impact. Others include the Lora & Martin Kelley Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Russell Family Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Though not part of the study, the California Endowment just announced it was going “all in” on impact. The organisation has US$4 billion in assets under management, which likely makes it the largest foundation to undergo the shift, according to Mission Investors Exchange.

Although the researchers looked at a fairly small sample set of foundations, Reddy says it provides data “that is indicative of what the foundation universe” might look like.

“We cannot tell foundations how to invest and that’s not the intent, but we do want to spread the message that it is quite possible to align their assets to impact,” she says. “The idea is that this becomes a boardroom conversation.”


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