According to Manhattan’s District Attorney, a billionaire US hedge fund manager with a “rapacious” appetite for stolen artefacts has agreed to hand over $US70 million ($99 million) in stolen antiquities and will be barred from purchasing any more for the rest of his life.
Prosecutors said that in exchange, Michael Steinhardt will not face criminal charges for acquiring pieces smuggled out of 11 countries, including Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria, and Turkey.
In a news release, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr said, “For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artefacts without regard for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe.”
“As reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied on to expand his collection, his pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries.”
Mr Vance said his investigation, which began in February 2017, discovered “compelling evidence” that the 180 antiquities were stolen from 11 countries, with at least 171 of them passing through traffickers before being purchased by Mr Steinhardt.
Mr Steinhardt said he was “pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries” in a prepared statement released by his attorneys.
138 of the antiquities came from Greece, Israel, or Italy, according to a 142-page statement of facts, and Mr Steinhardt once admitted that the majority of the items he bought from one dealer “did not have provenance.”
According to prosecutors, in May 2017, while complaining to an investigator about a subpoena requesting documentation for antiquity, Mr Steinhardt pointed to a small chest from Greece and said: “Have you seen this? It hasn’t been traced back to its source. I buy a piece if I like it when I see it.”
Prosecutors claim that many of the pieces Mr Steinhardt purchased were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest.
In 2017, Manhattan prosecutors began an investigation into Mr Steinhardt’s ancient artefact collection, and in 2018, they raided his office and his Manhattan home, seizing several artworks that investigators claimed had been looted.
A stag’s head in the shape of a ceremonial drinking vessel, dating from 400 BC, that Mr Steinhardt loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1993 is among the items he surrendered.
Prosecutors said the $US3.5 million head appeared on the international market without a provenance after looting in Milas, Turkey.
According to updated handwritten notes in Mr Steinhardt’s records, the stag’s head was “found in Western Turkey.”
The Greek chest, which was found on the island of Crete, was made to hold human remains. Prosecutors said the “larnax,” which dates from around 1,300BC, was purchased from a known antiquities trafficker.
After Islamic State looted cultural heritage from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq, a gold bowl in the collection was first trafficked.
According to Mr Vance, the antiquities will be returned to their original owners in Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey.
The investigation was aided by law enforcement in these countries.
Mr Steinhardt, who turns 81 on Tuesday, founded and closed the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967. In 2004, he returned from retirement to lead Wisdom Tree Investments.
He is also a philanthropist and the co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organisation that sends young Jewish people to Israel for free.
In honour of two $US10 million donations, New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development after him.
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