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Manhattan DA returns artifacts worth $20 million to Greece

Dozens of looted antiquities seized from billionaire hedge fund founder Michael Steinhardt after a yearslong investigation have been returned to the people of Greece, prosecutors in New York announced Wednesday.

The artifacts included a sculpture of a young man from about 560 B.C., known as a kouros, that is worth $14 million, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

The district attorney’s office has accused Steinhardt of relying on a “sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers and tomb raiders” to build his collection.

The handover of the ancient objects to Greece occurred after the district attorney’s office announced a deal in December under which Steinhardt was to surrender $70 million worth of artifacts acquired illegally from Greece and other countries including Egypt, Israel, Syria and Turkey.

Under the agreement, Steinhardt will not face criminal charges but is subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities. Steinhardt is a co-founder of Birthright Israel and a philanthropist who is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.

A total of 55 artifacts worth a collective $20 million are being repatriated to Greece, prosecutors said, 47 of them from Steinhardt’s collection and eight from another ongoing investigation.

“While this collection of exquisite ancient artifacts is valued at 20 million dollars, each piece is an irreplaceable display of Greece’s enduring strength, history, and cultural heritage,” Bragg said in a news release. “I am honored to return these 55 magnificent cultural treasures to the people of Greece — our largest such transfer of antiquities to this nation.”

Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni thanked the district attorney’s office and added, “The illegal trafficking of our country’s cultural treasures is a serious trauma that hurts all Greeks all over the world.”

According to prosecutors, Steinhardt purchased the kouros statue from dealer Robert Hecht in November 2000 for $2.3 million. Hecht, who died in Paris in 2012, had long been accused of trafficking in illegally acquired artifacts.

Other items from Steinhardt’s collection included a gold brooch from 600 B.C. valued at $1.3 million and a larnax, a small box for human remains, that dates from 1400 to 1200 B.C. and is valued at $1 million, prosecutors said.

The pieces will all be flown to Greece, where they will be handed over to different regional museums depending on where they were looted from, a spokesperson for the district attorney said.

Steinhardt, 81, 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.

A message seeking comment was sent to a representative for Steinhardt on Wednesday.

When the agreement between the financier and the district attorney’s office was announced in December, Steinhardt attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt had bought the items “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance.”

The agreement allows Steinhardt to sue the dealers who sold him the items. It is not clear if he has taken any legal action yet. [The Associated Press]