Hedge-fund titan and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt surrendered 180 antiquities from his collection on Monday. The objects are currently valued at $70 million. Steinhardt has also accepted a life-time ban from collecting antiquities as part of the plea agreement.
Steinhardt gave up the ancient peices after a criminal probe was opened into his collection in 2017 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
“The seized pieces were looted and illegally smuggled out of 11 countries, trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, and lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market, according to the Statement of Facts summarizing the investigation,” the DA’s office said.
The billionaire’s surrender of the objects is part of a larger deal meant to resolve the criminal probe into his collection. Vance said that the probe had “compelling evidence” that Steinhardt’s antiquities collection was stolen from 11 different countries, with almost all of the object going through traffickers before reaching Steinhardt.
“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 an official statement.
Steinhardt has denied any illegal activity on his part. His lawyers Andrew Levander and Theodore Wells said that the hedge fund founder was content that the investigation was over, and “items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.” They added that Steinhardt is considering seeking compensation from the dealers he worked with.
Steinhardt famously founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners, which he shut down in 1995 in order to concentrate full time on his philanthropy. Forbes estimates his worth at $1.2 billion.
Greece amongst countries to receive antiquities from Steinhardt’s surrendered collection
Vance said the antiquities will be returned to the countries they were stolen from, which includes Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey.
“Even though Steinhardt’s decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures is appalling, the interests of justice prior to indictment and trial favor a resolution that ensures that a substantial portion of the damage to world cultural heritage will be undone, once and for all,” Vance said.
According to the probe, many of the objects in the collection were originally from Greece, with 138 of the antiquities being traced back to either Greece, Israel or Italy.
Steinhardt regularly loaned items from his collection to institutions, including a 4th century B.C. stag’s head valued at $3.5 million that he loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Steinhardt’s records said that the object had been “Found in Western Turkey.“
“Information from a seller identifying the find spot of an un-provenanced antiquity is often an indication that it has been looted,” the probe said.
“Items wrongfully taken will be returned to their native countries”
The hedge fund manager’s attorneys, Andrew Levander and Theodore Wells, said in a joint statement said their client was pleased that the investigation has ended, adding that “items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
The lawyers also declared that Steinhardt may seek compensation from dealers who allegedly misled him regarding the provenance of the artifacts.
Steinhardt ran the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners, building his net worth to $1.2 billion, according to a report from Forbes.
Vance, who said the antiquities will be returned to their lawful owners in Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey, added that authorities in these nations assisted him in the years-long investigation.
The statement of facts regarding the case is an incredible 142 pages long. A total of 138 of the antiquities originated in Greece, Israel or Italy; Steinhardt is noted to have admitted at one time to prosecutors that most of the items he bought from one dealer “did not have provenance.”
One of the most striking artifacts was a fourth-century B.C. stag’s head, which is valued at $3.5 million; Steinhardt loaned the sculpture to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1993.
At this point, it is not known exactly where the stag’s head originated from, other than it had been “Found in Western Turkey,” according to an undated handwritten note that Steinhardt had in his possession, according to Reuters.
The statement of facts indicated that “Information from a seller identifying the find spot of an unprovenanced antiquity is often an indication that it has been looted.”
In January of 2018, investigators raided Steinhardt’s New York City apartment, seizing a large amount of antiquities which had allegedly been stolen and illegally purchased by Steinhardt.
Vance, the son of the well-known American politician Cyrus Vance, who was Secretary of State in the Jimmy Carter administration, created an antiquities trafficking bureau in December of 2017 in an effort to get to the bottom of the unethical trafficking in historic artifacts.
He plans to retire from the bureau after his 12-year-long tenure at the end of 2021.
Steinhardt’s philanthropic legacy includes The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University, which bears his name in recognition of two $10 million donations to the institution.
In the 1990s, Steinhardt bought Steeple Jason Island and Grand Jason Island in the Falkland Islands archipelago and donated them to the Wildlife Conservation Society, along with $425,000 for a research station to be named after himself and his wife. Steinhardt also invested in baseball teams, owning part of the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers.