U.S. Returns Billionaire Michael Steinhardt's Plundered Artifacts to Jordan

A prominent patron of Israeli cultural institutions like the Israel Museum, Steinhardt has so far surrendered 180 trafficked artifacts from around the Middle East

"The Gold Bowl," looted from Iraq, is displayed during a ceremony to officially repatriate several trafficked artifacts at the Manhattan District Attorney's office in January.
"The Gold Bowl," looted from Iraq, is displayed during a ceremony to officially repatriate several trafficked artifacts at the Manhattan District Attorney's office in January.Credit: John Minchillo /AP

U.S. authorities have returned nine looted artifacts to Jordan that were seized from an American billionaire collector as part of a landmark deal announced in December.

The artifacts were among 180 items seized by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, part of an agreement with collector Michael Steinhardt — a hedge fund founder and philanthropist as well as the co-founder of Birthright Israel — to surrender trafficked artifacts to avoid prosecution. The deal capped a four-year investigation into Steinhardt’s collection of looted antiquities.

The Jordanian Antiquities Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Jordan held a ceremony in Amman on Tuesday, showcasing the objects that were illegally smuggled from Jordan.

“This is a testament to the United States’ commitment to help protect Jordan’s cultural heritage. With today’s repatriation of Jordanian antiquities, we are keeping this promise,” U.S. Ambassador Henry T. Wooster said.

While the American and Jordanian authorities' press statements did not mention Steinhardt by name, seven of the artifacts that appeared in photos published by the ministry matched the description of Jordanian items in court documents.

Two ancient Jewish tombstones that were plundered from Jordan and bought by Steinhardt from an Israeli antiquities dealer did not appear in photos from the press conference. The director of the Jordanian Antiquities Ministry did not respond to request for comment.

U.S. officials have discovered at least 180 trafficked ancient artifacts in Michael Steinhardt's collection.Credit: Natan Dvir

Since the Manhattan District Attorney's office announced the agreement in December, U.S. authorities have returned Steinhardt's plundered artifacts to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Libya, Iraq, and now Jordan. Steinhardt was not accused of plundering any items himself and has said he did not commit any crime. But the DA’s office said he “knew, or should have ascertained by reasonable inquiry” that the antiquities were stolen.

More than two dozen artifacts that had been plundered from Israel and the occupied West Bank are expected to be returned to Israeli authorities later this month, the Israeli Antiquities Authority said.

Of the 40 artifacts being repatriated to Israel as part of the deal, at least 22 are believed to have been plundered from West Bank sites, according to court documents. Steinhardt “has been unable to locate” nine of those pieces, and another three are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The museum recently removed Steinhardt’s name from the display label for two Neolithic masks he had loaned.

The DA's office said the artifacts from the occupied West Bank will be returned to the Israeli government “pursuant to the Oslo Accords,” the 1995 interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which says the return of West Bank artifacts to the Palestinians should be resolved in a still-elusive final peace deal.

Jihad Yassin, a Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry official, said that the materials that came from the West Bank should be returned to the Palestinians, and that his department was preparing to submit a report to UNESCO about the issue.

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