Birthright Israel founder surrenders $70m in stolen relics

Billionaire Birthright Israel founder surrenders $70m in stolen relics
2 min read
08 December, 2021
Michael Steinhardt won't face criminal charges in return for handing over the illegally acquired objects, according to the prosecution.
The billionaire has allegedly owned and traded over 1,000 antiquities since 1987 [Getty]

Billionaire Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 stolen relics worth $70 million (£53m) and has been barred for life from buying more antiquities, according to media reports.

The hedge fund pioneer and founder of Birthright Israel - a tourism organisation that has sent over 750,000 Jews on free trips to Israel while many Palestinians abroad are barred by the Israeli authorities from returning home - handed over the illegally acquired objects used to decorate his personal and professional spaces, in return for not facing criminal charges, Manhattan's district attorney office said on Monday.

Steinhardt, who has owned and traded over 1,000 antiquities since 1987, acquired the various art pieces after they had been smuggled from 11 countries including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey, according to prosecutors.

“For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artefacts 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 Cyrus Vance said.

Steinhardt was not prosecuted in order to allow the stolen items to be “returned expeditiously to their rightful owners” rather than being held as evidence, Vance said.

Steinhardt's lawyer Andrew Levander said that his client is pleased to not have been given any charges.

"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,” Levander said in a statement quoted by The New York Times.

This isn't the first time Steinhardt has been linked to illegally obtained antiquities.

In 1997 a federal judge ruled that he had illegally imported a golden bowl costing $1 million from Italy in 1992, The New York Times reported.

Steinhardt's office and home was also raided in 2018 by investigators who took pieces they said was looted from Greece and Italy.