Billionaire Investor Michael Steinhardt Is Forced to Surrender $70 Million in Art and Agree Never to Collect Antiquities Again

After a grand jury investigation, the collector surrendered 180 stolen objects worth a combined $70 million. No criminal charges were filed.

Michael Steinhardt at the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York City. Photo: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt has been slapped with an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring cultural antiquities following a lengthy, multi-national investigation. He handed over 180 stolen objects worth a combined $70 million in the process.

Steinhardt’s surrendering of the artifacts came as part of an agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which effectively ends a three-year grand jury probe into his collecting history. He will not face criminal charges, per the arrangement. 

“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,” District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., said in a statement

“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.”

The 180 seized pieces were stolen from 11 countries, representing a dozen different smuggling networks. All “lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market,” according to the D.A.’s announcement.

Among the artifacts in question are a Rhyton (or drinking vessel) shaped like a stag’s head, which dates back to 400 B.C.E. and is worth an estimated $3.5 million; a Greek Larnax (a chest for human remains) that hails from 1400-1200 B.C.E. and is valued at $1 million; and three stone death masks believed to have been created around 6000 to 7000 B.C.E, worth a combined $650,000.

Vance said that his office was not pursuing criminal charges in order to accelerate the return of the artifacts to their respective countries of origin. 

“Even though Steinhardt’s decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures is appalling… this agreement guarantees that 180 pieces will be returned expeditiously to their rightful owners in 11 countries rather than be held as evidence for the years necessary to complete the grand-jury indictment, trial, potential conviction, and sentence,” he said. 

The lifetime ban handed to Steinhardt, now 80, applies to all future antiquities acquisitions, both here in the U.S. and abroad, a spokesperson for Vance’s office clarified. It’s the first punishment of its kind ever handed out. “As a law enforcement agency, we have resources that allow us to monitor future acquisitions [and] enforce the ban.”

One of the biggest antiquities collectors in the world, Steinhardt, now 80, has acquired and sold more than 1,000 cultural objects since 1987. The recently concluded grand jury investigation began in February 2017 when the District Attorney’s office seized a multimillion-dollar bull’s head statue that had been stolen from Lebanon during the country’s civil war and discovered other looted antiquities in the investor’s possession.

“Mr. Steinhardt is pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries,” said the collector’s lawyers, Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr., in a statement shared with Artnet News upon today’s announcement of his agreement with the District Attorney’s office. “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.”

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