Buying and selling stolen artifacts is a crime, but it seems that some people (especially the rich ones) do not care; that is until they get caught. News broke this week of 80-year-old retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt’s veracious appetite for ancient artifacts, and it does not seem that he cared if they were legally exported.
After a three-year grand jury investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit into his collecting practices, Steinhardt will surrender 180 stolen artifacts (valued at about $70 million). According to the D.A., all of the items “lacked verifiable provenance…” and he has been banned from buying cultural antiquities for the remainder of his life … poor baby! It will be interesting to see how they plan on enforcing that ban.
Michael Steinhardt’s attorneys stated that “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.” So, will he now go after the dealers who sold him the stolen items? Only time will tell.
In case you are wondering, among the items recovered were: the Stag’s Head Rhyton, which was looted from Turkey and dates to 400BCE (valued at $3.5m); the Ercolano Fresco, purchased in 1995 for $650,000; and a Larnax (small closed coffin) estimated to be worth $1 million.
Now you might be wondering how they uncovered his illegal purchases. In 2014, Professor Christos Tsirogiannis, a top archeologist, alerted the D.A.’s office that a rare prehistoric Sardinian idol from Steinhardt’s collection was once in the hands of convicted antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici. It was being offered at Christie’s with an estimate of $800-1.2M. Of course, the item was pulled from the sale and eventually returned to Italy. This discovery led to a more in-depth investigation into his collection. Steinhardt began collecting in the late 1980s and owns more than 1000 cultural artifacts.