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Hedge fund pioneer and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million and has been banned for life from acquiring antiquities, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Monday.
The surrender of the items comes after a probe that began in 2017 into the billionaire Steinhardt’s “criminal conduct,” the DA’s office said in a statement. The agreement ends a grand jury probe of Steinhardt, according to DA’s office.
“The seized pieces were looted and illegally smuggled out of 11 countries, trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, and lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market, according to the Statement of Facts summarizing the investigation,” the office said.
Vance said that the agreement with Steinhardt, 80, will return the stolen items to their rightful owners in those countries, instead of being held as evidence “to complete the grand jury indictment, trial, potential conviction and sentence.”
The agreement comes three years after Steinhardt’s office and home were raided by investigators as part of Vance’s probe. The DA said Steinhardt’s agreement to accept a lifetime ban from acquiring antiquities was “unprecedented.”
“Even though Steinhardt’s decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures is appalling, 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,” Vance said.
Steinhardt founded his company Steinhardt Partners LLP in 1967. He closed the hedge fund in 1995. Steinhardt also served 15 years as chairman of the board of Wisdom Tree Investments before retiring in 2019.
CNBC has reached out to Steinhardt’s defense attorney to request comment on the agreement with prosecutors.
The DA’s office said that the probe began when investigators looked into the statue of a Lebanese bull’s head, which was stolen during the Lebanese Civil War.
Vance’s office said the investigation determined Steinhardt had bought that multi-million-dollar statue and later loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. That statue was seized, as was a second marble statue of a calf bearer, which also was from Lebanon, and which had also been bought by Steinhardt for millions of dollars.
“In the process of uncovering the Lebanese statues, the D.A.’s Office learned that Steinhardt possessed additional looted antiquities at his apartment and office, and, soon after, initiated a grand jury criminal investigation into his acquisition, possession, and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987, the office said.
“As part of this inquiry into criminal conduct by Steinhardt, the D.A.’s Office executed 17 judicially-ordered search warrants and conducted joint investigations with law-enforcement authorities in 11 countries: Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey.
Vance said in a statement, “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,”
“His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell 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,” Vance said.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that six women had accused Steinhardt of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations.
The Times report, which also cited a lawsuit filed by another woman, said he had made sexual requests when the women sought support from the philanthropist. The Times also reported that Steinhardt appeared in two sexual harassment lawsuits, but was not named as a defendant in either case.
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life called the Times report “intentionally defamatory.”
But in a statement, the foundation also said Steinhardt’s “sense of humor can be insensitive, and he has apologized for the unintended bad feelings his remarks have caused.” The website includes a statement from the billionaire, who denies ever trying to touch anyone inappropriately.
Vance’s office detailed a number of the items surrendered by Steinhardt.