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New York Hedge Fund Manager Surrenders $70 Million of Stolen Art

Jennifer S. Musawwir 9 December 2021 min Read

The New York district attorney’s office announced on Tuesday, December 6th, that Michael Steinhardt, an 81 year-old billionaire and now notorious collector of antiquities, will be forced to hand over 180 objects that have been determined as stolen or looted from their countries of origin. A four-year investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s office in collaboration with multiple international agencies examined Steinhardt’s antiquities transactions dating back to the 1980s involving the acquisition, possession, and sale of over 1000 objects that exceeded $200 million in sales. Of these works, the investigation concluded that Steinhardt was in possession of 180 antiquities that had been illegally trafficked. Steinhardt reportedly spent $26 million to acquire these antiquities but their combined value has increased to over $70 million. 

Steinhardt does not face criminal charges but has been barred for life from the further acquisition of any other relics. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. made the following statement:

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.

Michael Steinhardt: Michael Steinhardt in 2013. Photographed by Natan Dvir/Polaris/eyevine. The Guardian.

Michael Steinhardt in 2013. Photographed by Natan Dvir/Polaris/eyevine. The Guardian.

Rather than proceed with a costly and lengthy trial, to protect witnesses who cooperated with the investigation, the DA’s office has chosen to prioritize the repatriation of these objects to 11 countries including: Bulgaria (1 antiquity); Egypt (n9 antiquities); Greece (47 antiquities); Iraq (2 antiquities); Israel (40 antiquities); Italy (51 antiquities); Jordan (9 antiquities); Lebanon (2 antiquities); Libya (1 antiquity); Syria (4 antiquities); and Turkey (14 antiquities). It was reported that the surrendered objects went through 12 different known networks of antiquities traffickers.

Michael Steinhardt:  The Stag’s Head Rhyton loaned in March 1993 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA. Photographed by Peter Horree/Alamy. The Guardian.

The Stag’s Head Rhyton loaned in March 1993 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA. Photographed by Peter Horree/Alamy. The Guardian.

In addition to the fact that known smugglers were directly involved with the acquisition of these objects and that their provenance could not be verified, the investigators also found that among this group were fragments of objects that were broken apart and sold in pieces or seized from their countries of origin at times of civil unrest and war. A “Bull’s Head” determined to have been stolen from the archaeological site of Eshmun in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War was the catalyst behind this investigation that was launched in February 2017. At that time, the marble bull’s head was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where there is a gallery named after the collector, “Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C.: Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery.”

Recommended podcast and book:

Stuff the British Stole with Marc Fennell

“The Whole Picture: The Colonial Story of the Art in Our Museums & Why We Need to Talk About It” (2020) by Alice Procter

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