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Billionaire Gets 'Unprecedented Lifetime Ban' on Antiquities

Michael Steinhardt will face no charges over $70M in stolen items
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2021 11:16 AM CST
No Charges for Billionaire With $70M in Stolen Antiquities
Philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, poses for photos on May, 31, 2006, in New York.   (AP Photo/Taglit-birthright, David Karp, File)

(Newser) – A New York billionaire will face no criminal charges after surrendering 180 antiquities worth $70 million, which authorities say were stolen from 11 countries. The items had been looted from Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey, and trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks before appearing on the international art market, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which began investigating Michael Steinhardt's "acquisition, possession, and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987" in February 2017, per CNBC.

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The 81-year-old hedge fund pioneer and philanthropist admitted that he lacked provenance documentation for items in his collection after receiving a subpoena for the information relating to a statue of a bull's head, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, which was valued at $12 million, per ABC News and CNBC. "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," District Attorney Cy Vance said Monday.

The DA's office said Steinhardt knew or should have known the 180 purchased items—including a 2,400-year-old ceremonial vessel in the shape of a stag's head, believed to have come from Turkey, valued at $3.5 million; a 3,400-year-old larnax coffin from the Greek island of Crete, worth $1 million; and a 50BC fresco from Herculaneum (now Ercolano), Italy, worth $1 million—were stolen. But Steinhardt avoided criminal charges in agreeing to forfeit the items in exchange for what Vance described as an "unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities," per the New York Times. Vance said the agreement meant the stolen items would be "returned expeditiously to their rightful owners" without the risk of exposing witnesses.

Steinhardt—who was previously found to have illegally imported a $1 million gold bowl from Italy in 1992—"maintains that he did not commit any crimes related to his acquisition, possession, or sale of any antiquities," according to the agreement. The billionaire also claims the dealers he worked with falsely claimed that they had the legal right to sell the objects, for which he paid more than $26 million. "Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved," his lawyers said in a statement, per CNBC. It noted Steinhardt is "pleased ... that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned." (Read more antiquities stories.)

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