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Culture

Antiquities Returned to Greece in Ceremony at Manhattan DA’s Office

NEW YORK – In an atmosphere of optimism and joy, a total of 55 archeological objects, of which at least three are considered to be of great value, were returned to the Greek state at an event at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on February 23 attended by Greece’s Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni.

Alvin Bragg, the District Attorney of New York County, expressed his happiness for contributing to the completion of this investigation, commending the team of Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Matthew Bogdanos and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel, saying “this is a dream team.” He also emphasized his appreciation to Greece and Minister Mendoni.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni examines one of the rescued sculptures on Feb. 23 at the Manhattan DA’s Office. (Photo: TNH Staff)

“While this collection of exquisite ancient artifacts is valued at 20 million dollars,” Bragg noted, “each piece is an irreplaceable display of Greece’s enduring strength, history, and cultural heritage…I am honored 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 that have resulted in more than 90 relics being returned to five nations in 2022 alone.”

For her part, the Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, spoke of a “day of great happiness for Greece,” and she declared, “on behalf of the Hellenic Government, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank the District Attorney’s Office and their excellent cooperation with the Directorate for Documentation and Protection of Cultural Goods of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. As a result, 47 Greek antiquities from the Steinhardt Collection, and eight more ancient assets retrieved from another investigation of your office are being repatriated. 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.”

Mendoni acknowledged the “methodical and unremitting effort” on the part of the office of the District Attorney, making special references to both Bragg and his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., and Bogdanos.

Stolen antiquities are displayed at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/David R. Martin)

“The artifacts included a sculpture of a young man from about 560 BC, known as a ‘kouros’, that is worth $14 million, Bragg said, according to AP, which also noted that “according to prosecutors, Steinhardt purchased the kouros statue from dealer Robert Hecht in November 2000 for $2.3 million. Hecht, who died in Paris in 2012,  had long been accused of trafficking in illegally acquired artifacts.”

“The district attorney’s office has accused Steinhardt of relying on a ‘sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers and tomb raiders’ to build his collection,” AP reported, and added that, “the handover of the ancient objects to Greece occurred after the district attorney’s office  announced a deal  in December under which Steinhardt was to surrender $70 million worth of artifacts acquired illegally from Greece and other countries including Egypt, Israel, Syria and Turkey.”

AP noted that other items from Steinhardt’s collection included a gold brooch from 600 BC valued at $1.3 million and a larnax, a small box for human remains, that dates from 1400 to 1200 BC and is valued at $1 million, prosecutors said. The pieces will all be flown to Greece, where they will be handed over to different regional museums depending on where they were looted from, a spokesperson for the district attorney said.”

Steinhardt is not going to face criminal charges – but his lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities is unprecedented. Steinhardt, who has also lived the life of a revered philanthropist, is a co-founder of Birthright Israel and is chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. New York University honored him by naming the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development after him in response to two $10 million donations.

Currently 81, he founded the hedge fund Steinhardt Partners in 1967, which was closed in 1995. Coming out of retirement in 2004, he took charge  of Wisdom Tree Investments.

The investigation was handled Bogdanos, who is Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, in close cooperation with the Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property of the Ministry of Culture of Greece. The Greek antiquities originate from Central Greece, Crete, the Cyclades (Paros, Naxos), Samos and Rhodes.

Stolen antiquities are displayed at a news conference at the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/David R. Martin)

“All these things are very important to me. It is not just the beauty of an archeological object. I know where these objects came from, I remember the archeological sites themselves,” Bogdanos said, sending a message of pride to all Greeks.

Bogdanos also clarified that these are not only items from the Michael Steinhardt collection, but also some that were found in the course of different investigations, conducted by the DA’s Office, under the guidance of the Greek-American ADA.

This is the most recent case of repatriation of stolen antiquities and Bogdanos was previously instrumental in the 2017 return of an ancient Greek sarcophagus of great value.

According to AP, “Manhattan prosecutors began investigating Steinhardt’s collection of ancient artifacts in 2017 and raided his office and his Manhattan home in 2018, seizing several artworks that investigators said had been looted… When the agreement between the financier and the district attorney’s office was announced in December, Steinhardt attorneys Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr. said that many of the dealers from whom Steinhardt had bought the items made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance… The agreement allows Steinhardt to sue the dealers who sold him the items. It is not clear if he has taken any legal action yet.”

A message seeking comment was sent by AP to a representative for Steinhardt on Feb 23.

 

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