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Hedge-fund pioneer and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million and has been banned for life from acquiring antiquities, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Monday.
The surrender of the items comes after a probe that began in 2017 into the billionaire Steinhardt’s “criminal conduct,” the DA’s office said in a statement.
“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 office said.
The agreement, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, ends a grand jury probe of Steinhardt, meaning he will not be criminally charged in the case, according to the DA’s office.
Vance said the agreement with Steinhardt, 80, will result in the stolen items being returned to their rightful owners in those countries instead of being held as evidence “to complete the grand jury indictment, trial, potential conviction and sentence.”
The agreement comes three years after Steinhardt’s office and home were raided by investigators as part of Vance’s probe. The DA said Steinhardt’s agreement to accept a lifetime ban from acquiring antiquities was “unprecedented.” The deal defines antiquities are artifacts created before 1500 A.D.
“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.
The agreement notes that “Steinhardt maintains that he did not commit any crimes related to his acquisition, possession, or sale of any antiquities.”
On the other hand, Vance’s office “maintains that the evidence would establish at trial that Steinhardt bought, sold, and otherwise dealt in antiquities and that he knew, or should have ascertained by reasonable inquiry, that the antiquities listed in Exhibit A were stolen,” the agreement says.
“Nonetheless, [Vance’s office] has determined that the equities in this case and the interests of justice prior to indictment and trial favor the resolution embodied in this Agreement.”
Steinhardt’s lawyers, Andrew Levander and Theodore Wells Jr., in a statement, said, “Mr. Steinhardt is 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.”
“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 lawyers said. “To the extent these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved.”
The DA’s office said the probe began when investigators looked into a statue of a Lebanese bull’s head, which was stolen during the Lebanese Civil War.
That investigation determined Steinhardt had bought the multimillion-dollar statue and later loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the office said. That statue was seized, as was a second marble statue of a calf bearer, which also was from Lebanon and which had also been bought by Steinhardt for millions of dollars.
“In the process of uncovering the Lebanese statues, the D.A.’s Office learned that Steinhardt possessed additional looted antiquities at his apartment and office, and, soon after, initiated a grand jury criminal investigation into his acquisition, possession, and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987,” the office said.
“As part of this inquiry into criminal conduct by Steinhardt, the D.A.’s Office executed 17 judicially-ordered search warrants and conducted joint investigations with law-enforcement authorities in 11 countries: Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey,” it said.
Vance said in a statement, “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.”
“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,” Vance said.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that six women had accused Steinhardt of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations.
The Times report, which also cited a lawsuit filed by another woman, said he had made sexual requests when the women sought support from the philanthropist. The Times also reported that Steinhardt appeared in two sexual harassment lawsuits but was not named as a defendant in either case.
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life called the Times report “intentionally defamatory.”
But in a statement, the foundation also said Steinhardt’s “sense of humor can be insensitive, and he has apologized for the unintended bad feelings his remarks have caused.” The website includes a statement from the billionaire, who denies ever trying to touch anyone inappropriately.
Vance’s office detailed a number of the items surrendered by Steinhardt.