US Collector and Billionaire Surrenders Millions Worth of Stolen Art

All 180 looted art pieces in Michael Steinhardt’s collection will be repatriated.

Dec 09, 2021 | By Sarah Ridzwan
steinhardt looted art
From top to bottom: a fresco, larnax, death mask, and Stag Head Rhyton. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

Michael Steinhardt, a billionaire investor and antiquities collector, agreed on Tuesday (December 7) to surrender 180 stolen relics worth a combined US$70 million. Steinhardt, who amassed one of the world’s largest collections of ancient art, also agreed to a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.

Steinhardt had been under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, according to a press release. The team looked into over 1,000 items acquired by him for more than 30 years and found him to be in possession of stolen artefacts that had been smuggled out of 11 countries by 12 different criminal networks.

steinhardt looted art
The Ercolano Fresco of the infant Hercules slaying a serpent. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

“Steinhardt viewed these precious artifacts as simple commodities — things to collect and own,” Homeland Security Investigations New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel said in a statement. “He failed to respect that these treasures represent the heritage of cultures around the world from which these items were looted, often during times of strife and unrest.”

The investigation into Steinhardt began in 2017 after prosecutors had determined that he had purchased a statue looted from Lebanon during its civil war and loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, CNN reported. More suspicions were raised after an inquiry into his record and led to the formation of a joint investigation with investigators in 11 countries, including Egypt, Greece, Iraq, and Syria.

michael steinhardt looted art
A golden bowl from Iraq. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

Some of Steinhardt’s seized treasures include the Stag’s Head Rhyton, a ceremonial vessel valued at US$3.5 million; the Larnax, a small chest for human remains valued at US$1 million, and a trio of death masks dating back to 7000 BCE that is valued at US$650,000.

He will not have to face any charges, provided he abides by all the terms in the agreement. The District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, has stated that the items are to be returned to their owners immediately. Steinhardt’s lawyer said that the collector himself is happy that the investigation has yielded no charges.

Steinhardt has one of the most significant antiquities collections in the world. His collection houses pieces by Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, among others. A gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ancient Greek art wing is named after him and his wife.

steinhardt looted object
A larnax, or a container for human remains, from Crete. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

Other looted items around the world An ancient sculpture of a Hindu goddess that was stolen from a temple in the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh and trafficked for sale in London in the 1980s will be now be returned to its rightful home in India, according to the Guardian.

The recovery was aided by Christopher Marinello, a lawyer and art restitution expert based in London. Marinello was aided by Vijay Kumar, a specialist in recovering Indian cultural objects to retrieve the piece. The two worked with the Indian’s Archaeological Survey and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and London’s Metropolitan Police.

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