In Search of Cambodia’s “Looted” Treasures — Finance Uncovered
The Cambodian government says these stone relics, depicting the heads of gods and demons, match a set that was looted years ago from one of the nation’s sacred sites.
It’s unclear who edited the photo or for what reason, but experts interviewed for this story concluded that the carvings had been removed from the magazine’s image.
The owners of the San Francisco mansion are lawyer and author Sloan Lindemann Barnett and her husband, Roger Barnett, an executive at a nutritional supplement company. The couple did not respond to email and phone messages from reporters.
The Cambodian investigation of the family collection goes beyond a set of statues. The stone objects in the San Francisco house appear to come from a larger collection of Khmer relics held by Lindemann Barnett’s billionaire parents, Frayda and the late George Lindemann.
The parents’ collection appeared in a previous broadcast of Architectural Digest, in 2008, described as “one of Southeast Asia’s largest art collections in private hands”. These photos show their home in Palm Beach, Florida, filled with Khmer antiques, many of which the Cambodian government suspects have been looted. Two of them appear to match artifacts that are among the top 10 stolen relics in the country, according to the government.
“Some of these statues have enormous historical and cultural significance for Cambodia and should be repatriated as soon as possible,” said Phoeurng Sackona, the country’s Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, who is leading the country’s efforts to recover statues. thousands of lost items.
“It’s not just art,” said Sopheap Meas, an archaeologist working with the Cambodian team. “We believe that each of them contains the souls of our ancestors.”
Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Antiquities Unit have contacted the Lindemann family in recent years about their Khmer collection, and there’s been no indication the family plans to return the statues, according to two people familiar with the efforts. who spoke on condition of anonymity because work is ongoing.
The Lindemann family has not been charged with any wrongdoing related to the artifacts. Frayda Lindemann did not respond to messages from reporters.
The discovery of the altered photo is part of a larger investigation by Finance Uncovered, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Washington Post into the fate of thousands of relics linked to art looters and traffickers. As The Post and ICIJ have previously reported, many of these treasures can be found in the collections of renowned Western art museums.
The new report sheds light on the role of private collectors who acquire antiques of uncertain origin and the opaque world of the antiques trade.
Once outside their country of origin, stolen items can be difficult to repatriate. With limited means to compel their return, authorities in victimized countries are largely dependent on assistance from law enforcement in the United States and other countries where the articles end up. But such investigations are expensive, are often considered a low priority for overburdened agencies, and rarely lead to convictions, in part because owners can say they bought the looted works without knowing it.
“This is a systemic problem” in the art market, said Domenic DiGiovanni, a former US Customs and Border Protection agent who specializes in antiques. There is little incentive for dealers and private collectors to stop buying looted art, he said, and “having to return something is just the cost of doing business”.
Asked about the edited image, Erin Kaplan, spokesperson for Architectural Digest, a Condé Nast publication, said via email that the magazine had published a photo that did not show the relics due to “publication rights unresolved concerning certain works of art”. Kaplan declined to say who edited the photo or clarify his comment about unresolved publishing rights.