Billionaire Collector Michael Steinhardt Surrenders $70 Million in Looted Antiquities
December 9th, 2021
New York philanthropist, collector, and hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt, whose name graces a New York University college as well as galleries and conservatories from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Brooklyn Museum, has surrendered to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office 180 looted items together valued at $70 million. “Wall Street’s greatest trader,” as Bloomberg cast in him in 2014, has additionally been barred for life from acquiring antiquities, in a move the DA’s office described as “unprecedented.”
The forfeiture and punishment followed a four-year investigation conducted by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan prosecutor’s office, in which some sixty researchers, investigators, and foreign authorities working in eleven different countries—Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey—assisted. Authorities discovered among the stolen objects decorating the billionaire’s many homes around the world a $2.6 million ceremonial vessel shaped like a stag’s head; a $1500,000 gold bowl stolen from Nimrud, Iraq, during the 2020 looting of the Levant by the Islamic State; three stone death masks worth a collective $400,0000 and dating to 6000 BCE; 2007; and the so-called Ercolano Fresco, for which Steinhardt paid accused trafficker $650,000. The prosecutor’s office said that 171 of the 180 seized objects originally surfaced in the possession of accused antiquities traffickers.
“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,” said Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in a statement. “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
“Mr. Steinhardt is pleased that the District Attorney’s yearslong investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries,” said Andrew J. Levander, the disgraced philanthropist’s lawyer, in a statement. “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.”
Steinhardt faces no charges if he hews to the terms of his punishment. Vance in a statement noted that the DA’s decision not to prosecute was based on a desire to return the stolen objects to their rightful owners as quickly as possible, and to protect the identities of the many witnesses around the globe who would otherwise be called to testify at trial.