An American billionaire has been forced to return antiquities valued at 70 million dollars, 180 stolen pieces that he collected over the last three decades. The deal brings to an end four years of investigation in to financier Michael Steinhardt.
Steinhardt is well known for his patronage of the University of New York where students learn about art in the Steinhardt Faculty. The facility covers a variety of disciplines from fine arts to childhood education, but sadly it is now clear that he was not a master but rather the owner of 180 stolen antiquities.
The pieces are worth in the region of $70 million and were stolen from a number of countries, all of which the prosecutor has instructed Steinhardt to return. All the pieces were apparently bought on the black market having been stolen in eleven countries and moved through 12 illegal art trafficking networks.
Cyrus Vance the New York District Attorney speaking about the case said “for decades, Michael Steinhardt showed a rapacious appetite for stolen pieces without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the objects he bought and sold, or the unfortunate cultural damage he has inflicted around the world. His search for new additions to show and sell had no geographical or moral limits, as seen in the vast underworld of antiquities dealers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb looters on whom he depended to expand his collection.”
No criminal charges
As part of the deal, Steinhardt won’t face any charges but will have to return all the stolen items, which adorn his home and offices. He will also face a lifelong ban from buying antiquities and from participating in any sale or auctions. His total collection is believed to be worth around $200 million.
Steinhardt has bought and resold nearly a thousand antiques since 1987, and now his collection was worth an estimated $200 million.
Vance in defending the deal said it was more important to see the items returned to the owners quickly, than it was to see Steinhardt charged in court. Importantly the deal will also protect the identities of those who the items were stolen from, as well as the witnesses who assisted the prosecutors office.
Most of the items to be returned are very valuable treasures some of which were on display in the New York gallery. These items include a ceremonial chalice in the shape of a deer’s head whose appearance on the market coincided with abundant looting in Milas (Turkey); a Roman fresco that was looted from the ruins of Herculaneum, near Naples; an urn for human remains from Crete dated between the fourteenth and twelfth centuries BC.C. and a bowl of gold from Nimrud (Iraq).
Most of the pieces that will be returned come from Italy, Greece and Israel, but there are also others from Egypt, Bulgaria, Iraq, Jordan, Liba, Syria, Turkey or Lebanon.
The art networks
According to Steinhardt’s lawyer, Andrew Levander, said that his client is leaving the case “without charge” and that the pieces “that were taken by others illegally will be returned to their countries of origin.” Many of the items he said, 171 of the 180 pieces, were bought from dealers who indicated that they had legal certificates about them and about their alleged origin.
It’s possible that he did not always know that the items were stolen, however this is not the first time he has been implicated. In 1995, a golden vessel imported from Italy in 1992 illegally was confiscated with the judge in that case saying that Steinhardt was not an innocent owner unaware of the irregularities of his origin.
What we do know is that he certainly looked the other way with investigators saying that he had said “If I see a piece and I like it, I buy it” when asked about the absence of lawful origin on one of the pieces.
In many ways the story that American billionaire, is forced to return antiquities, is a good news story in that the items will be returned to the true owners.
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