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Billionaire Michael Steinhardt surrenders $70m worth of stolen art

After a years-long investigation, Steinhardt will return the pieces to to their native countries

The Stag’s Head Rhyton
The Stag’s Head Rhyton | Creative Commons

December 7, 2021 10:49pm

Updated: December 8, 2021 8:27pm

The billionaire and antique art collector, Michael H. Steinhardt, surrendered $70 million in stolen relics. He is barred for life from acquiring antiquities, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Steinhardt was being investigated for looting and smuggling pieces from 11 countries, trafficking in illicit networks, and appearing on the international art market without paperwork.

After a four-year multinational investigation, the prosecutor’s office reached an agreement with the billionaire. Steinhardt was not charged, but he will have to return the items to their native countries and he will be banned for life from acquiring any other antiquities.  

“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,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “This agreement establishes that Steinhardt will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

The billionaire surrendered 180 antiquities, 171 of which had passed through traffickers before being bought by the collector. The objects include The Stag’s Head Rhyton, a Turkish ceremonial vessel from 400 BCE valued at $3.5m, and the $1m Ercolano Fresco, which was looted from a Roman villa near Naples.

“Steinhardt viewed these precious artifacts as simple commodities – things to collect and own. He failed to respect that these treasures represent the heritage of cultures around the world from which these items were looted, often during times of strife and unrest,” said Homeland Securities Investigations New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel.

In 1997, Steinhardt was accused of illegally importing a golden bowl from Italy that was made in Sicily in approximately 450 B.C. and is worth $1 million. In 2018, investigators raided his office and home, taking away several looted goods. Among the other goods found was a marble statue stolen from a temple in Lebanon.