The latest skirmish in the ongoing battle (See May 5, 2013) between the U. S. government (on behalf of Cambodia) and Sotheby’s over an allegedly looted Khmer Empire sculpture turned nasty last Thursday, as both prosecution and defense hurled accusations of unethical behavior at each other. At issue before Judge George B. Daniels was Sotheby’s motion to halt discovery and dismiss the case, based on new evidence from an expert in Cambodian colonial law that disputed the government’s position that legal decrees from the early 1900’s, when Cambodia was a French colony, outlawed the removal of Khmer Empire sculpture.
During the proceedings, as reported by The New York Times, Sotheby’s accused Brent Easter, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security, of interfering in a deal in which a private collector would buy the statue, known as Duryodhana, from Sotheby’s and donate it back to Cambodia. Sotheby’s alleged that the U.S. government had acted for diplomatic reasons, wanting sole credit for the statue’s return.
For its part, the government accused Jane A. Levine, currently Sotheby’s Worldwide Director of Compliance, but formerly a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office assigned to the F.B.I.’s art crime team, of providing “false and misleading information” during the investigation.
A new hearing has been set for October 14.