(CNN) – American billionaire Michael Steinhardt has delivered 180 stolen relics worth an estimated US $ 70 million and has agreed to an “unprecedented” ban on acquiring antiques for life, as reported by Manhattan authorities.
Investigators discovered that Steinhardt, one of the world’s largest collectors of ancient art, was in possession of artifacts looted and smuggled from 11 countries by 12 criminal networks, according to a statement from the Manhattan District Attorney on Monday.
“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a voracious appetite for looted artifacts without worrying about the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the serious cultural damage it caused around the world,” said the prosecutor of the Manhattan district Cy Vance Jr. in the statement.
“His quest for ‘new’ additions to display and sell knew no geographical or moral limits, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities dealers, crime bosses, money launderers and grave robbers that he relied on to expand his collection”.
Steinhardt’s attorneys, Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr, said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday that their client was glad the prosecutor’s investigation was concluded without charge “and that the items wrongly taken by others were returned to their countries of origin “.
Steinhardt accepted the return of the 180 seized artifacts to their rightful owners, according to Vance, who said this was a faster resolution than going to trial.
“Ultimately, this agreement establishes that Steinhardt will be subject to an unprecedented ban on acquiring antiques for life,” said Vance.
The prosecution’s statement says the investigation began in February 2017. Authorities began investigating a statue of the Bull’s Head stolen from Lebanon during the country’s civil war, determining that Steinhardt had other artifacts looted from his apartment and office, according to prosecutors.
The investigation was then expanded to include his “acquisition, possession and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987,” according to the statement, and involved cooperation with the authorities of Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan. , Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey.
“Steinhardt viewed these precious artifacts as mere merchandise, things to collect and possess,” New York Homeland Security Investigations Acting Special Agent Ricky J. Patel said in the statement.
“He did not respect that these treasures represent the heritage of cultures around the world from which they were looted, often in times of strife and unrest,” Patel said.
A statement from Steinhardt’s legal representatives added: “Many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt purchased these objects made specific statements about their legal ownership and their alleged provenance. To the extent that these statements were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved its right to claim compensation from the merchants involved. “
Among the items seized is the Deer Head Rhyton, a ceremonial container depicting a deer head and dating from 400 BC. C. It hit the market after a looting in Milas, Turkey, and is valued at $ 3.5 million today, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Another is the Larnax, a chest from Crete, Greece, used to hold human remains. It dates from the years 1400-1200 BC. C. and is valued at one million dollars, according to the Manhattan Prosecutor’s Office.
As part of its extensive responsibilities to date, the Manhattan Attorney’s Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered several thousand artifacts valued at more than $ 200 million, according to the statement. More than 1,500 of the seized artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners, and hundreds more are awaiting repatriation.