Fifty-five Greek antiquities valued at over $20 million are to be repatriated after the announcement of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Tuesday.
The return of the stolen antiquities took place at the District Attorney’s office with a repatriation ceremony that was attended by Greece’s Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni.
This was after a long multinational investigation into billionaire Michael Steinhardt, and owner of one of the world’s largest private ancient art collections.
Among the 55 Greek antiquities, there are eight prehistoric artifacts from Thessaly drawn from another investigation that is still ongoing.
“It is a day of great happiness for Greece”
Upon receiving the Greek antiquities, Mendoni stated: “It is a day of great happiness for Greece as 47 antiquities from the Michael Steinhardt Collection return to their home, as well as eight other prehistoric works from Thessaly.”
The Greek minister praised the “methodical and tireless efforts” on the part of the District Attorney:
“Your great success is not only returning the antiquities to their countries of origin, including Greece, but a loud message to all those involved in the illegal trafficking of cultural goods that…”
“…sooner or later the time will come when such illegal transactions will be revealed and the perpetrators will have to face the repercussions of their acts,” she said.
“We are convinced,” Mendoni added, “that the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural goods can be won with patience, perseverance and method, but above all with the close cooperation of people, institutions and states that fight against antiquity smuggling.”
“The illegal trafficking of cultural treasures of our country is a serious problem that hurts all Greeks around the world,” the minister pointed out.
District Attorney Bragg expressed his enthusiasm at having contributed to the completion of this investigation, adding that he felt honored to be a part of it.
The Greek archaeologist who uncovered the stolen antiquities
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis had an important role in tracking the stolen antiquities in the collection of Steinhardt.
Tsirogiannis is an Associate Professor and Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, Denmark. He was in the team of researchers for the origin of the artifacts in the Steinhardt case.
The Greek antiquities decorated the billionaire’s homes and offices and were often loaned to museums. Tsirogiannis identified 36 items in the Steinhardt collection.
Steinhardt denies knowledge of wrongdoing
For his part, the financier denied any criminal wrongdoing and agreed to return the Greek antiquities and other artifacts as part of a deal meant to resolve the criminal probe into his collection.
He argued that he purchased the antiquities without knowing that they were looted, putting at fault the dealers.
The billionaire’s attorneys stated that 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 said that Steinhardt may seek compensation from dealers who allegedly misled him regarding the provenance of the artifacts.