An American billionaire and hedge fund manager has to return stolen artifacts worth about $70 million, and has been banned for life from buying antiquities after an investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney found that items he owned had been stolen and illegally smuggled, BBC reported.
Michael Steinhardt, 81, who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and co-founder of Birthright Israel, will not face criminal charges for having the stolen artifacts, which were illegally smuggled out of 11 countries including Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey, prosecutors said.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office began investigating Steinhardt’s rare collection in 2017. In 2018, they raided his office and his Manhattan home where they seized several artworks that investigators said had been looted, The Irish Examiner reported.
“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,” Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr said in a press release.
“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.”
Steinhardt had to give up 180 stolen antiquities, which court records said were looted, illegally smuggled and then trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, ABC News reported.
Many of the rare items Steinhardt had in his possession were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.
Court records also said the antiquities lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market, according to ABC News.
Steinhardt denies any criminal wrongdoing in the matter; the deal also puts an end to a grand jury investigation into his affairs, BBC reported.
Through his lawyers, Steinhardt released a statement that said he was “pleased that the district attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
His lawyers also said that many of the dealers their client dealt with “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”