Stolen art and the Colorado scholars role in illicit antiquities trade

In this three-part special report, The Denver Post investigates the role of “The Scholar” in a decades-long illicit antiquities smuggling operation that left ancient Cambodian temples plundered for big money.

Before her death last year, Emma C. Bunker, a longtime Denver Art Museum consultant, played an integral role in helping her close friend and confidant, the disgraced collector and dealer Douglas Latchford, sell and market his looted collection of prized relics to wealthy buyers and prominent museums — including Denver’s.

The series highlights the cozy nature between curators, scholars, museums and dealers — and how incentives align to allow the dirty world of the international art market to proliferate.

The Post’s year-long investigation included on-the-ground reporting in Cambodia and Thailand, a review of hundreds of state and federal court documents, and interviews with 34 art experts, government officials, former looters, cultural heritage investigators, and Bunker’s friends and contemporaries. The Post also examined dozens of private emails from Latchford’s computer, which his family shared with the Cambodians after his death.

Read The Post’s Looted investigation here:

Part 1: Unmasking “The Scholar”: The Colorado woman who helped a global art smuggling operation flourish for decades

Douglas Latchford spent decades marketing stolen goods from Cambodia’s ancient temples, authorities say. And he couldn’t have done it without his trusted confidant in Denver.

Part 2: How the Denver Art Museum became a “laundromat” for looted Asian relics

The second installment of The Post’s three-part series on Bunker and the illicit antiquities trade focuses on the integral role of museums in legitimizing plundered art — and the curators, scholars and dealers who make it possible.

Part 3: The global hunt for a secret cache of stolen Thai treasures runs through Denver

The little-known story of how pieces from the “Prakhon Chai hoard” made their way from the hands of impoverished villagers to galleries in the Denver Art Museum and other foreign collections — and the Colorado scholar who helped legitimize the relics.

Additional reading:

The anatomy of an art heist: From looting ancient temples to selling million-dollar relics

Illicit antiquity networks generally operate in a similar fashion, whether they’re in the Middle East, southern Europe or Southeast Asia. In this story, cultural crime experts and law enforcement officials break down how these organizations thrive and the key players who make them possible.

Who was Emma C. Bunker?

Cattle wrangler, art aficionado, beloved colleague and grandmother. This story goes beyond the court cases, delving into Bunker’s decades of work and personal enjoyment, as told by the people who knew her.

Who was Douglas Latchford?

Charming, gregarious and a man of exquisite tastes, Latchford wined and dined government officials, museum curators and wealthy collectors from his lavish perch in Bangkok.

Previous coverage:

  • Denver Art Museum gives up 22 pieces from India linked to one of world’s largest antiquities smugglers
  • Looted Cambodian treasures once in the Denver Art Museum are headed back home
  • Looted sculpture once at Denver Art Museum part of federal seizure tied to indicted art dealer Douglas Latchford
  • Denver Art Museum gives up looted Cambodian antiquities as feds seek forfeiture
  • Six relics tied to international art scandal are still in the Denver Art Museum

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