Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. on Tuesday announced the return of 58 antiquities valued at close to $19 million to Italy. 21 of the pieces were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and many were from the collection of philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors, and the chairman of the board at The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and Taglit-Birthright Israel.
The pieces were trafficked by Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, Pasquale Camera, and Edoardo Almagiá.
Steinhardt received a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities following the New York County District Attorney’s multi-year, multi-national criminal investigation of his “acquisition, possession and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987.” In December 2021, Steinhardt struck a deal with the NYC DA to return 180 items with an estimated value of $70 million, in exchange for the dismissal of a grand jury investigation into his collection.
Steinhardt kept the remaining pieces that he purchased legally.
On Thursday, AFP reported that the authorities in New York announced the return of 16 antiquities to Egypt, including five works that were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nine of the pieces had been in the possession of Michael Steinhardt.
In May and June this year, five additional pieces worth $3.1 million were seized from the Met, at the conclusion of a probe of the US and French authorities into the criminal activities of former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez.
Former DA Cyrus Vance Jr. said on December 6, 2021, that “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.”
Steinhardt’s attorney argued that many of the dealers from whom his client had bought the artifacts “made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and their alleged provenance.”
“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” District Attorney Bragg said on Tuesday. “For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership. Exposing these schemes takes years of diligent and difficult investigative work, and I applaud our team of prosecutors and analysts, who in coordination with our law enforcement partners, are continuing to make unparalleled progress in returning stolen antiquities.”
Fabrizio Di Michele, Consul General of Italy, announced: “We praise the intense and fruitful cooperation between Italian and US authorities, and notably with the New York County District Attorney’s Office, for the recovery of looted or stolen antiquities. These extraordinary 58 masterpieces are an invaluable treasure of our history and heritage. It is to be underlined that this is the third repatriation ceremony that takes place in just nine months. I wish to acknowledge once more the work done by District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his outstanding team, as well as the Homeland Security Investigations, and our irreplaceable Carabinieri’s Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale. The return of these artifacts to the places they belong is a testimony to their tireless and steadfast commitment.”