(Bloomberg) -- Michael Steinhardt, the money manager and art collector caught up in legal battles over ancient artifacts, agreed to surrender 180 pieces valued at $70 million and accept a lifetime ban from the antiquities market, New York prosecutors said.
The pieces Steinhardt turned over were looted and smuggled from 11 countries, which included Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy and Turkey, and trafficked by criminal smuggling networks, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Monday.
While the 80-year-old money manager “displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions,” no charges were filed against him, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in the statement. Steinhardt maintained he bought the pieces based on false representations from sellers, and that he committed no crimes in the deals.
Prosecutors began a criminal probe of Steinhardt in 2017, after an artifact he once owned known as the “Bull’s Head” was surrendered to the district attorney by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The item, valued at millions of dollars, had disappeared from Lebanon during its civil war, according to court filings.
That episode was at least the fifth time questions arose about the source of works in Steinhardt’s collection. The same year, he was sued by the Republic of Turkey over his effort to auction a stone idol. In the 1990s, he appealed a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend his ownership of an antique gold platter seized from his apartment at Italy’s request. The appeals failed.
Steinhardt is “pleased” that he won’t be charged and that “items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries,” his lawyers said in an emailed statement. “Many of the dealers from whom Mr. Steinhardt bought these items made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance. To the extent these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved.”
Prosecutors said Steinhardt had owned and traded more than 1,000 antiquities since 1987, and his art collection was valued at about $200 million, Bloomberg reported in 2017. He also owned modern art and textiles, along with a private exotic animal zoo at an estate in Bedford, New York. Steinhardt said he was drawn to the inherent risk of ancient art, and that the questions he faced on disputed pieces amounted to “a little bit of bad luck.”
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