US billionaire surrenders $70m of stolen artwork

Michael Steinhardt ‘displayed rapacious urge for food for plundered artefacts’, says district legal professional

Final modified on Tue 7 Dec 2021 17.53 GMT

An American hedge-fund billionaire has surrendered 180 looted and illegally smuggled antiquities valued at $70m and been handed an unprecedented lifetime ban on buying different relics as a part of an settlement with the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace.

Michael Steinhardt, one of many world’s largest collectors of historical artwork, “displayed a rapacious urge for food for plundered artefacts”, the district legal professional Cyrus Vance Jr stated on Monday.

The lifetime ban marks the dramatic fruits of a world investigation that started formally in 2017.

The DA’s workplace stated its inquiry discovered “compelling proof” that the antiquities had been stolen from 11 nations, and that no less than 171 handed by means of traffickers earlier than being purchased by Steinhardt.

The seized items lacked verifiable provenance previous to showing on the worldwide artwork market, the workplace stated, including that it had executed 17 judicially ordered search warrants and carried out joint investigations with law-enforcement authorities in Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey.

Steinhardt, who had been chairman of the board of Knowledge Tree Investments earlier than retiring in 2019, denied prison wrongdoing in resolving the matter, which ended a grand jury investigation into him.

Vance stated: “For many years, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious urge for food for plundered artefacts with out concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the items he purchased and bought or the grievous cultural injury he wrought throughout the globe.

“His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and promote knew no geographic or ethical boundaries, as mirrored within the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, cash launderers and tomb raiders he relied upon to develop his assortment.”

Vance famous that the antiquities could be returned to their rightful house owners moderately than be held as proof for the years mandatory to finish a grand-jury indictment and trial.

“This decision additionally permits my workplace to protect the id of the numerous witnesses right here and overseas whose names could be launched at any trial, to guard the integrity of parallel investigations in every of the 11 nations with whom we’re conducting joint investigations,” he stated.

Below the phrases of the settlement, Steinhardt has surrendered The Stag’s Head Rhyton, a spectacular ceremonial vessel within the type of a stag’s head, which dates to 400BCE and appeared with out provenance available on the market following looting in Milas, Turkey. It’s valued at $3.5m.

Different treasures embody the Ercolano Fresco, which depicts an toddler Hercules strangling a snake despatched by Hera to slay him, which had been bought from convicted antiquities traffickers for $650,000 in 1995, the 12 months it had been looted from a Roman villa within the ruins of Herculaneum, close to trendy Naples. In the present day, it has been valued at $1m.

Over 15 years, Prof Christos Tsirogiannis, a number one archaeologist, has recognized greater than 1,550 looted artefacts inside public sale homes, business galleries, non-public collections and museums. A former senior subject archaeologist on the College of Cambridge, he’s now an affiliate professor on the institute of superior research on the College of Aarhus in Denmark, and helps to safe the repatriation of antiquities by alerting Interpol and different authorities.

He advised the Guardian: “Lots of the dozens of antiquities that I recognized within the Steinhardt assortment – utilizing the photographic archives confiscated from convicted sellers and traffickers – appeared first within the ‘most respected’ prime sellers and public sale homes on this planet.

“I first alerted the DA’s workplace in New York on the Steinhardt case in November 2014, after I recognized an especially uncommon prehistoric Sardinian idol, valued at $800,000-$1.2m, placed on public sale by Steinhardt at Christie’s in New York. I discovered a picture of the identical idol, damaged in items, within the archive confiscated from the infamous and convicted antiquities seller Giacomo Medici. The item was withdrawn and repatriated to Italy … This case led progressively to the raids on Steinhardt’s workplace and homes with the outcomes we see at this time.”

In an announcement, Steinhardt’s attorneys stated: “Mr Steinhardt is happy that the district legal professional’s years-long investigation has concluded with none prices, and that gadgets wrongfully taken by others can be returned to their native nations.”

Christie’s declined to remark.

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