Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the return of 55 ancient artefacts to Greece valued at more than $20 million at a repatriation ceremony held yesterday in New York that was attended by Greece’s Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni.
The handover followed the conclusion in December of a multinational investigation into Michael Steinhardt, a billionaire financier and owner of one of the world’s largest private ancient art collections. Forty-seven of the pieces that will be returned to Greece came from the Steinhardt collection and eight more were drawn from another investigation that is still ongoing.
In a statement from the New York District Attorney’s Office the investigation, which began in 2017, yielded 180 stolen antiquities that were valued at $70 million. Mr Bragg said more than 90 relics were being returned to five countries – believed to be Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Syria and Turkey.
Mr Steinhardt will not face criminal charges but has agreed to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.
“While this collection of exquisite ancient artefacts is valued at 20 million dollars, each piece is an irreplaceable display of Greece’s enduring strength, history, and cultural heritage,” said District Attorney Bragg. “I am honoured to return these 55 magnificent cultural treasures to the people of Greece – our largest such transfer of antiquities to this nation. I thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their superb efforts.”
Dr Mendoni thanked the District Attorney’s Office and its cooperation with her ministry.
“The illegal trafficking of our country’s cultural treasures is a serious trauma that hurts all Greeks all over the world. We work systematically to stop this crime,” Dr Mendoni said.
Also attending the repatriation ceremony was Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J Patel who said the partnership between his agency and the district attorney’s office had been instrumental in identifying the artefacts and ensuring their return.
‘The stories attached to many of these irreplaceable artefacts date back to ancient Greece, circa 6000-4000 B.C., and tell the story of the history and culture of an older world. Thankfully, they will now be returned home, so that their stories can be told to future generations,” Special Agent Patel said.
Quoting court records, US broadcaster ABC, said the 180 recovered artefacts were looted and smuggled from 11 countries and were trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks.
The Times of Israel said the recovered antiquities would be flown to Greece to be handed to different regional museums depending on from where they were originally stolen.