(NEW YORK) — Billionaire investor and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt was forced to surrender $70 million worth of stolen antiquities and comply with a lifetime ban on collecting antiquities on Monday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said.
Steinhardt had to give up 180 stolen antiquities, which court records said were looted and illegally smuggled out of 11 countries, trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, and lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market.
The Larnax, a small coffin from the islands of Crete, Greece, dating back to 1400 BCE, was among the surrendered pieces.
The Larnax is valued at $1 million and was bought by Steinhardt for $575,000 in October 2016 from known antiquities trafficker Eugene Alexander, the DA said.
Payments for the piece were made using Seychelles-headquartered FAM Services and Satabank, a Malta-based financial institution that was suspended for money laundering, according to the DA’s office.
While complaining about a subpoena requesting provenance documentation for another stolen antiquity, Steinhardt pointed to the Larnax and said to an Antiquities Trafficking Unit investigator, “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.”
The 180 pieces will now be returned expeditiously to their rightful owners in 11 countries: Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office conducted a multi-year, multi-national investigation into Steinhardt’s criminal conduct beginning in February 2017.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern 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,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said Monday.
“His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection,” Vance added.
Investigators from the DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit learned that Steinhardt possessed looted antiquities at his apartment and office.
They initiated a grand jury criminal investigation into his acquisition, possession and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987.
There were 17 judicially-ordered search warrants and they conducted joint investigations with law enforcement authorities in the 11 countries mentioned above.
Vance said the investigation developed compelling evidence that 180 were stolen from their country of origin and “exhibited numerous other evidentiary indicators of looting.”
“Mr. Steinhardt is 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,” Steinhardt’s lawyers said in a statement Monday. “Many of the dealers from whom Mr. Steinhardt bought these items made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance. To the extent these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved.”
Most of the 180 seized antiquities first surfaced in the possession of individuals who law-enforcement authorities later determined to be antiquities traffickers — some of whom have been convicted of antiquities trafficking, and many of the seized antiquities were trafficked following civil unrest or looting.
Other items that were surrendered included the Stag’s Head Rhyton, valued currently at $3.5 million and the Ercolano Fresco, valued at $1 million.
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