Michael Steinhardt, a billionaire investigators say had a “rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts,” surrendered $70 million in antiquities and will be barred from collecting any relics for the rest of his life, authorities said Tuesday.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Steinhardt handed over 180 stolen objects that were looted and smuggled from 11 countries, the culmination of an investigation that began in 2017. Among the object are a stag’s head rhyton, a ceremonial vessel looted from Turkey and valued at $3.5 million; a larnax, a small chest for human remains from Crete that dates to 1400-1200 B.C.E.; and a gold bowl looted from Iraq worth $200,000.
Three death masks that were likely crafted between 6000 and 7000 B.C.E. in modern Israel were also surrendered. At least 171 of them are known to have passed through international arts traffickers operating in countries ranging from Bulgaria and Egypt to Lebanon and Italy.
“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,” Vance said 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.”
The objects will be promptly returned to their “rightful owners,” and Vance said Steinhardt surrendered the antiquities as part of a deal that will not seem him charged, as long as he abides by the terms of the agreement. Doing so, Vance added, will prevent the items from being held as evidence for years longer and shield witnesses that helped in the investigation.
Steinhardt, 81, is known as one of the world’s foremost collectors of ancient antiquities and has an art collection valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2019, Steinhardt faced several accusations of sexual harassment by women working for organizations he supported. He denied some of the accusations and apologized for others.
The New York Times notes Steinhardt is a major contributor to organizations like New York University and Jewish philanthropic groups, and his name adorns a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
His attorney said Steinhardt was “pleased” the investigation was over, laying blame over what he called items’ “wrongfully taken by others.”
“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,” the attorney, Andrew Levander, said in a statement to the Times. “To the extent these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved.”