NewsWorld"Pandora Papers": in the footsteps of the Khmer temple...

“Pandora Papers”: in the footsteps of the Khmer temple plunderer – Le Monde

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By The World

Posted today at 5:00 a.m., updated at 6:32 a.m.

For decades, Douglas AJ Latchford was the epitome of the adventure film explorer, way Indiana Jones : an Englishman fond of ancient sculptures and Asian temples lost in the jungle, as erudite as he is sympathetic.

From his helicopter trips to the ancient cities of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia, he brought back countless Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, to the point of constituting one of the largest private collections in the world of Khmer treasures.

It was only much later that the truth emerged: Douglas AJ Latchford had been engaged throughout his career in a lucrative traffic in antiques, illegally looted from the sacred temples of this civilization which prospered a long time ago. millennium. Indicted in 2019 by American justice, the looting adventurer died at the age of 88, before his trial and the confiscation of his property.

12th-century Bodhisattva in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, May 2021.

But against all odds, in February 2021, after years of cooperation between Cambodian and American authorities and tough negotiations with the family of the deceased, the case seemed to have found a happy ending. A few months after the death of her father, Julia Latchford had announced restitution from its private collections in Cambodia. Justice would still be served.

Siva and Skanda, the twin “trusts”

The “Pandora Papers” tell another story. The leak of confidential documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveals, in fact, curious financial arrangements set up by the Latchford family just after the start of the American judicial investigation, in 2011.

With his daughter Julia and his son-in-law, Simon Copleston, Douglas Latchford set up two “trusts” – opaque structures allowing to hide assets and their beneficiaries – on the island of Jersey, a notorious tax haven which depends on the British Crown: Siva Trust and Skanda Trust. Structures unknown to Cambodian investigators, who have nonetheless been tracking the adventurer’s property for years.

What are the “Pandora Papers”?

“Pandora Papers” is a collaborative investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in partnership with 150 international media, including The world. It is based on the leak of nearly 12 million confidential documents, transmitted by an anonymous source to the ICIJ, from the archives of fourteen firms specializing in the creation of offshore companies in tax havens (British Virgin Islands, Dubai, Singapore, Panama, the Seychelles…).

Five years after the “Panama Papers”, the survey reveals the extent of the abuses of the offshore industry and its limited companies. She shows how this system benefits hundreds of policymakers, and how new tax havens are taking over as old ones convert to transparency.

To read : “Pandora Papers”: a world dive into the secrets of offshore finance

However, the documents reveal that Skanda Trust held a large part of the Latchford collection, including at least 80 Khmer antiques. Among them, real treasures: bronzes of Buddha, Lokesvara and other religious figures. One of them, valued at more than 1.5 million dollars (1.2 million euros), was part of the list of stolen goods established by the American justice. Which seems to indicate that the restitution promised by the Latchford family actually covers only part of their property.

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