By Jan Ellen
NEW YORK (GOLDENHORN AGENCY)- On Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced the return of $4.6 million worth of stolen antiquities to Turkey. The return of the 28 antiquities was the result of a multi-year, multinational criminal investigation into one of the world’s most prominent collectors of ancient artifacts – Michael Steinhardt whose collection included 180 stolen antiquities worth $70 million. The artifacts were confiscated in December 2021 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security who slapped a first-of-its kind lifetime ban on Steinhardt that will prevent him from being able to purchase any additional antiquities. Fourteen of the objects in Steinhardt’s illegal stash belong to Turkey and other artifacts belonging to Turkey were uncovered from additional collectors’ confiscation.
The Turkish antiquities were returned on Friday in a formal ceremony at the Turkish House in New York City which is home to the UN Mission and the Turkish Consulate. Officiating at the repatriating ceremony were Turkey’s Consul General Reyhan Özgür and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Assistant-Special Agent-in-Charge, Michael Alfonso. The ceremony was the third repatriation ceremony held to return antiquities from Steinhardt’s collection. In his comments, District Attorney Bragg emphasized the need for those in the art world to better police the market of ancient antiquities. As Bragg said: “But what so many in the art world fail to acknowledge is that stolen artifacts should not be collectible property for sale to the highest bidder: they’re evidence of thefts and looting committed around the world. Collectors and admirers must do their part to ensure items have been lawfully acquired. And we at the Manhattan DA’s Office are committed to ensuring that those peddling in stolen and looted antiquities are put to a stop.”
The Turkish Consul General Özgür praised officials for their thorough investigation and said: “We would like to express our gratitude to the Office of the Manhattan District Attorney and Department of Homeland Security for their efforts regarding the recovery and return of the 28 antiquities to the Republıc of Türkiye. Officials of The Combatting of Illicit Trafficking Department of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Türkiye are proud of being part of the investigation process. We appreciate the dedication and hard work of all American and Turkish officials. These antiquities are priceless for Turkish people. They symbolize our rich and vast cultural heritage which is based on many civilizations. Now they are being returned to their rightful owners. Illicit trafficking of cultural property can be prevented through coordination at the international level. We believe that cooperation between related Turkish authorities and the Office of the District Attorney will yield more fruitful results in the coming period.”
New York’s Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations, Ricky Patel expressed what an honor it is to be part of such a major repatriation. Patel commented: “HSI is proud to be a part of this grand repatriation of more than two dozen priceless artifacts to the government of Turkey. With fourteen of these items from the collection of billionaire Michael Steinhardt and rare coins from prominent surgeon and collector Arnold Peter Weiss, this repatriation is the result of multiple transnational investigations. The continued efforts of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Group and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is a testament to the importance of preserving cultural history from around the world and ensuring antiquities find their way home.”