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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All told, the removal of Emma Bunker’s name and monetary return represents the most significant action taken by the Denver Art Museum since a Denver Post investigation outlined the scholar’s integral role in an international art looting scandal.
The Denver Art Museum says it is making research into artworks connected to Emma Bunker a “top priority” after a Denver Post investigation detailed how the longtime museum consultant used her scholarship to help an indicted dealer launder and sell looted relics around the globe.
The Denver Art Museum has removed from its website an Asian art acquisition fund named in honor of Emma Bunker following a Denver Post investigation into the longtime museum consultant and board member.
- 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