Items seized from US billionaire Michael Steinhardt among 142 looted items returned to Italy

Items seized from US billionaire Michael Steinhardt among 142 looted items returned to Italy

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

New York officials have returned nearly $ 14 million worth of stolen antiques to Italy, including dozens of items seized from US billionaire Michael Steinhardt.

More than a third of the 142 items returned at a ceremony on Wednesday had previously belonged to the former hedge fund manager, who was once among the world’s most prominent collectors of ancient art, according to the Manhattan District Attorneys’ Office.

Among the repatriated objects was a 2,000-year-old fresco depicting a young Hercules strangling a snake. Worth an estimated $ 1 million, it was looted from an archeological site near Italy’s Vesuvius in 1995.

Later that year, Steinhardt bought the plant without seeing evidence of ownership history, according to investigators. Another 47 items from his collection were among the returned items.

In a statement, the Consul General of Italy in New York, Fabrizio Di Michele, said that the recovery was “very important for our country”.


“Ercolano Fresco”, dating back to 50 AD, was among the items repatriated. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney

The announcement follows a years-long investigation of Steinhardt, who avoided charges after handing over 180 items, worth an estimated $ 70 million, and agreed to what officials called a “unique” lifetime ban on acquiring antiques.

In recent months, objects from his collection – ranging from statues and sculptures, to gold masks, bowls and ceremonial vessels – have been returned to countries including Iraq, Israel and Turkey.

Among them was a $ 1.2 million marble statue of a veiled female head, which was repatriated to Libya in January. A helmet believed to have belonged to Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedonia, was meanwhile handed over to Bulgaria. In February, 47 items from Steinhardt’s collection were returned to Greece, including a rare statue worth $ 14 million.

The investigation looked at more than 1,000 antiques related to Steinhardt since at least 1987. Authorities found that he had looted items that had been smuggled out of 11 countries by 12 criminal networks.

Following the investigation’s conclusion in December, Manhattan’s then district attorney, Cy Vance, Jr., said Steinhardt had “shown a strong appetite for looted items without worrying about the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the serious cultural damage he did. applied all over the globe. ”

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In a statement issued to CNN at the time, Steinhardt’s attorneys, Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr., said that their client was pleased that the investigation was completed without any charges “and that items unlawfully taken by others will be returned to their home country. ”

They claimed that “many” of the dealers Steinhardt purchased stolen items from had “made specific representations regarding the dealers’ legal title to the items, and their alleged origin,” adding: “To the extent that these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved the right to seek compensation from the dealers involved. “

Of the other 94 items returned to Italy on Wednesday, 60 had been recovered from the Royal Athena Galleries, a now-defunct New York gallery founded by antiques dealer and counterfeit expert Jerome M. Eisenberg. The district attorney’s office did not suggest any misconduct by Eisenberg or the Royal Athena Galleries, which it thanked for “help and cooperation” in the investigation.

The other 34 objects were linked to “other ongoing investigations”.

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