Looted Libyan artefact worth $1.2M to return home

Looted Libyan artefact worth $1.2M to return home after multi-year investigation
2 min read
14 January, 2022
An ancient funerary bust from Shahhat in North-Eastern Libya is to be repatriated after release from the ‘collection’ of disgraced billionaire New York financier Michael Steinhardt.
he marble head was stolen from the ancient city of Shahhat in North-Eastern Libya. [Facebook]

The Foreign Minister for Libya’s Government of National Accord, announced on Thursday evening that the Libyan Embassy in Washington has formally received the "Veiled head of female" funerary bust, which dates back to 350 BC. 

The ministry clarified on their Facebook page that the marble head was stolen from the ancient city of Shahhat in North-Eastern Libya. It was then illegally trafficked to the United States, where attempts were made to sell the object under the name “marble funeral head” in an auction at the Aphrodite exhibition in New York. 

According to the post, the ministry received reports from the Libyan antiquities department alerting them to the upcoming sale of the stolen artefact. The ministry immediately contacted the US State Department, which along with other federal agencies were able to stop the sale.

“We were notified recently by the anti-trafficking office of the New York District attorney that the federal investigations had ended and the head could be returned”, they said. 

180 artefacts head home

The repatriation is among the first to take place after an extensive four-year international investigation into the illegal acquisitions of billionaire New York financier Michael Steinhardt. The criminal enquiries began in 2017 after Manhattan District Attorney seized a bull’s head that the collector had loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was in fact stolen from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. 

Items from Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey, all appeared amongst the 180 looted objects for which Steinhardt possessed no paperwork establishing legal provenance. The illegally acquired artefacts were valued at over $70 million. 

In his statement on January 12, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg announced: “I’m honoured to return this cultural treasure, which was looted during a period of unrest, to the people of Libya.”

In response, during the official repatriation ceremony in Washington, Chargé d’Affaires of the Libyan Embassy Khaled Daief thanked “everyone that worked to ensure that this invaluable Libyan artefact returns to its homeland in Shahat Museum”.

Steinhardt has received a lifetime ban on acquisitions, but no prison time or further punishment for his actions.