New York returns looted artifacts worth $14million to Italy after investigators seized them

New York returns looted artifacts worth $14million to Italy after investigators seized them from the black market – including dozens of relics recovered from billionaire Michael Steinhardt’s collection

  • New York authorities Thursday returned looted artifacts worth $14million to Italy
  • The items include those recovered from billionaire Michael Steinhardt collection
  • Fresco showing young Hercules strangling a snake and three paintings returned
  • Returned as part of a deal made with Steinhardt in December over stolen items 
  • DA Vance said in December Steinhardt had a ‘rapacious appetite’ for stolen relics

New York has returned looted artifacts worth $14million to Italy after investigators seized them from the black market – including dozens of relics recovered from billionaire Michael Steinhardt’s collection.   

Among the artifacts returned to Italy was a fresco depicting a child Hercules strangling a snake and three fresco paintings stolen from Paestum, an ancient Greek city in southern Italy, and dating back to the fourth century B.C. 

The items, which were handed to Italian officials in New York on Wednesday, will be housed in the new Museum of Rescued Art in Rome. 

Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg Jr., said: ‘These artifacts deserve a place in their homeland, where the people of Italy can jointly appreciate the marvels of their country’s past. 

‘There are far too many important cultural artifacts being illegally looted and trafficked across the globe.’

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office seized 180 items from Steinhardt, 81, in a landmark deal announced in December which allowed the billionaire to avoid prosecution over the looted collection.

He owned relics included a stag’s head drinking vessel from Greece dating from 400 BC worth $3.5 million, and three ‘Death Masks’ believed to be more than 8,000 years old which were crafted in the Judean foothills and worth $650,000. 

Since the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced the agreement in December, US authorities have returned Steinhardt’s plundered artifacts to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Libya, Iraq, Jordan and now Italy.

As part of the December deal, Steinhardt, who bought some of his items from dealer Robert Hecht, who has been accused of illegal trafficking, agreed to a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.  

The Ercolano Fresco, (pictured) which was seized as part of the investigation into Steinhardt. Depicting an infant Hercules strangling a snake, the piece dates to 50 C.E. and was looted in 1995 from a villa in Herculaneum, an archaeological site that was buried for millennia under volcanic ash from the fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius

The Ercolano Fresco, (pictured) which was seized as part of the investigation into Steinhardt. Depicting an infant Hercules strangling a snake, the piece dates to 50 C.E. and was looted in 1995 from a villa in Herculaneum, an archaeological site that was buried for millennia under volcanic ash from the fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius

New York has returned looted artifacts - including dozens of relics recovered from billionaire Michael Steinhardt's (pictured with wife Judy) collection - worth $14million to Italy

New York has returned looted artifacts – including dozens of relics recovered from billionaire Michael Steinhardt’s (pictured with wife Judy) collection – worth $14million to Italy

An Archaic pithos (storage jar) dating back to 700 B.C. returned to Italy by officials in New York. It was seized as part of an ongoing investigation into Edoardo ALMAGIÀ, an Italian native and former New York resident

An Archaic pithos (storage jar) dating back to 700 B.C. returned to Italy by officials in New York. It was seized as part of an ongoing investigation into Edoardo ALMAGIÀ, an Italian native and former New York resident

Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said it had returned three fresco paintings dating to the 4th century B.C.E. from Paestum, an ancient Greek city located in southern Italy.

The paintings depict scenes of mourning women, and were hacked from the wall of an tomb by looters.

Other relics returned to Italy included the Ercolano Fresco, which was seized as part of the investigation into Steinhardt. 

Depicting an infant Hercules strangling a snake, the piece dates to 50 C.E. and was looted in 1995 from a villa in Herculaneum, an archaeological site that was buried for millennia under volcanic ash from the fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

Steinhardt purchased the Ercolano in 1995 for $650,000 with no verifiable prior provenance. It is currently valued at $1,000,000. 

Also repatriated was a Archaic pithos (storage jar) dating back to 700 B.C.

It was seized as part of an ongoing investigation into Edoardo ALMAGIÀ, an Italian native and former New York resident.

The Jordanian Antiquities Ministry and the US Embassy in Jordan held a ceremony in Jordan’s capital, Amman, in March showcasing the objects that were ‘illegally smuggled from Jordan and obtained by an antiquities collector in the United States,’ the embassy said in a statement.

‘This is a testament to the United States’ commitment to help protect Jordan’s cultural heritage. With today’s repatriation of Jordanian antiquities, we are keeping this promise,’ Ambassador Henry T. Wooster said.

The American and Jordanian authorities’ press statements did not mention Steinhardt by name, but seven of the artifacts that appeared in photos published by the ministry matched the description of Jordanian items in court documents.

Two ancient Jewish tombstones that were plundered from Jordan and bought by Steinhardt from an Israeli antiquities dealer did not appear in photos from the press conference.

Jordanian Tourism Minister Nayef al Fayez and Henry Wooster, United States Ambassador to Jordan, stand near artefacts handed over by the U.S. to Jordan during a ceremony, in Amman

Jordanian Tourism Minister Nayef al Fayez and Henry Wooster, United States Ambassador to Jordan, stand near artefacts handed over by the U.S. to Jordan during a ceremony, in Amman

Stolen antiquities are displayed at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York. Dozens of looted antiquities seized from collector and billionaire hedge fund founder Michael Steinhardt after a years-long investigation have been returned to the people of Greece

Stolen antiquities are displayed at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York. Dozens of looted antiquities seized from collector and billionaire hedge fund founder Michael Steinhardt after a years-long investigation have been returned to the people of Greece

A sculpture of a young man from about 560 B.C., known as a kouros, is presented at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York

A sculpture of a young man from about 560 B.C., known as a kouros, is presented at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York

The Jordanian Antiquities Ministry and the US Embassy in Jordan held a ceremony in Jordan's capital, Amman, on Tuesday showcasing the objects that were 'illegally smuggled from Jordan and obtained by an antiquities collector in the United States,' the embassy said in a statement

The Jordanian Antiquities Ministry and the US Embassy in Jordan held a ceremony in Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Tuesday showcasing the objects that were ‘illegally smuggled from Jordan and obtained by an antiquities collector in the United States,’ the embassy said in a statement

Of the 40 artifacts repatriated to Israel as part of the deal, at least 22 are believed to have been plundered from West Bank sites, according to court documents. 

Steinhardt ‘has been unable to locate’ nine of those pieces, and another three are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The museum recently removed Steinhardt’s name from the display label for two Neolithic masks he had loaned.

Steinhardt ‘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,’ Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in December.

‘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 added. 

The offices of Steinhardt’s hedge fund and his Fifth Avenue apartment have been raided in recent years by Vance’s investigators.

The district attorney has made it a priority to track stolen works – seizing some from museums, private collections or auction houses – and return them to their rightful owners, including in Lebanon, Pakistan and Italy.

The Larnax , a small chest for human remains from Greek Island of Crete that dates between 1400-1200 B.C.E., purchased from known antiquities trafficker Eugene Alexander via Seychelles-headquartered FAM Services for $575,000 in October 2016. Today, the Larnax is valued at $1 million.

The Larnax , a small chest for human remains from Greek Island of Crete that dates between 1400-1200 B.C.E., purchased from known antiquities trafficker Eugene Alexander via Seychelles-headquartered FAM Services for $575,000 in October 2016. Today, the Larnax is valued at $1 million.

Three Death Masks purchased from known antiquities trafficker GIL CHAYA with no provenance whatsoever for $400,000 in October 2007, less than a year after they surfaced on the international art market. The Death Masks (circa 6000 to 7000 B.C.E.) were crafted from stone and originated in the foothills of the Judean mountains, most likely in the Shephelah in Israel. Today, the Death Masks are valued at $650,000

Three Death Masks purchased from known antiquities trafficker GIL CHAYA with no provenance whatsoever for $400,000 in October 2007, less than a year after they surfaced on the international art market. The Death Masks (circa 6000 to 7000 B.C.E.) were crafted from stone and originated in the foothills of the Judean mountains, most likely in the Shephelah in Israel. Today, the Death Masks are valued at $650,000

Steinhardt, estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.2 billion, is a major donor to institutions such as New York University and the Metropolitan Museum, which named a gallery after him.

The artifacts he has returned are estimated to be worth a total of about $70 million, the district attorney’s office said.

Despite Steinhardt’s ‘decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures,’ Vance said he had no immediate plans to prosecute the billionaire.

‘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,’ he said.

‘This agreement guarantees that 180 pieces will be returned expeditiously to their rightful owners in 11 countries rather than be held as evidence for the years necessary to complete the grand-jury indictment, trial, potential conviction, and sentence,’ Vance said. 

Steinhardt said in a prepared statement issued by his attorneys that 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.’

Attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt bought the items ‘made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.’

The Stag's Head Rhyton , depicting a finely wrought stag's head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, purchased from The Merrin Gallery for $2.6 million in November 1991. The item, which dates to 400 B.C.E., first appeared without provenance on the international art market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. In March 1993, Steinhardt loaned the Stag's Head Rhyton to the Met, where it remained until the D.A.'s Office applied for and received a warrant to seize it. Today, the Stag's Head Rhyton is valued at $3.5 million

The Stag’s Head Rhyton , depicting a finely wrought stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, purchased from The Merrin Gallery for $2.6 million in November 1991. The item, which dates to 400 B.C.E., first appeared without provenance on the international art market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. In March 1993, Steinhardt loaned the Stag’s Head Rhyton to the Met, where it remained until the D.A.’s Office applied for and received a warrant to seize it. Today, the Stag’s Head Rhyton is valued at $3.5 million

According to prosecutors, while complaining about a subpoena requesting documentation for an antiquity in May 2017, Steinhardt pointed to an small chest from Greece and said to an investigator, ‘You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.’

Many of the pieces Steinhardt acquired were removed from their countries of origin during times of war or civil unrest, prosecutors said.

Steinhardt founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967 and closed it in 1995. He came out of retirement in 2004 to head Wisdom Tree Investments.

New York University named its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after Steinhardt in recognition of two $10 million donations.

Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt’s collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted.

Steinhardt’s priceless works procured from the ‘sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders’

The Stag’s Head Rhyton, depicting a finely wrought stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, purchased from The Merrin Gallery for $2.6 million in November 1991.

The item, which dates to 400 B.C.E., first appeared without provenance on the international art market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey.

In March 1993, Steinhardt loaned the Stag’s Head Rhyton to the Met, where it remained until the D.A.’s Office applied for and received a warrant to seize it. Today, the Stag’s Head Rhyton is valued at $3.5 million.

The Larnax, a small chest for human remains from Greek Island of Crete that dates between 1400-1200 B.C.E., purchased from known antiquities trafficker Eugene Alexander via Seychelles-headquartered FAM Services for $575,000 in October 2016. Today, the Larnax is valued at $1 million.

The Ercolano Fresco purchased from convicted antiquities trafficker Robert Hecht and his antiquities restorer Harry Burki with no prior provenance for $650,000 in November 1995.

Depicting an infant Hercules strangling a snake sent by Hera to slay him, the Ercolano Fresco dates to 50 C.E. and was looted in 1995 from a Roman villa in the ruins of Herculaneum, located near modern Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

It first appeared on the international art market on November 10, 1995 when Hecht’s business partner wrote Steinhardt regarding a ‘crate being delivered to you soon’ with the artifact inside. Today, the Ercolano Fresco is valued at $1 million.

The Gold Bowl looted from Nimrud, Iraq, and purchased from Svytoslav Konkin with no prior provenance for $150,000 in July 2020.

Beginning in 2015, objects from Nimrud were trafficked when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targeted cultural heritage from Nimrud, Hatra, and Khorsabad, particularly ancient objects made of gold or precious metal.

The Gold Bowl, which is crafted from gold with a scalloped flower design, first surfaced on the international art market in October 2019, when a Customs and Border Patrol officer notified the D.A.’s Office that Konkin was on a flight from Hong Kong to Newark, New Jersey, hand-carrying the Gold Bowl for Steinhardt. Today, the Gold Bowl is valued at $200,000.

Three Death Masks purchased from known antiquities trafficker GIL CHAYA with no provenance whatsoever for $400,000 in October 2007, less than a year after they surfaced on the international art market.

The Death Masks (circa 6000 to 7000 B.C.E.) were crafted from stone and originated in the foothills of the Judean mountains, most likely in the Shephelah in Israel.

They appear soil-encrusted and covered in dirt in photographs recovered by Israeli law-enforcement authorities. Today, the Death Masks are valued at $650,000.

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