MANHATTAN, NY (WPIX) — Manhattan DA Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. announced the return of more than a dozen antiquities worth more than $4 million back to Egypt Wednesday.
In total, 16 antiquities were returned to Egypt during a repatriation ceremony attended by Egypt’s Consul General Howaida Essam Mohamed and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel.
“Today’s repatriation shows the breadth and prevalence of antiquities trafficking networks, but thanks to the work of our dedicated prosecutors and analysts, we have made tremendous progress in cracking down on this illegal activity,” said District Attorney Bragg. “We will not allow our borough to be used by dealers and traffickers to turn a profit off these stolen artifacts.”
The Manhattan DA’s office said it has been performing a multi-year, international criminal investigation into one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors and billionaire hedge fund manager, Michael Steinhardt. In total, 180 stolen antiquities were taken from Steinhardt with a value of over $70 million. The investigation resulted in a lifetime ban on having antiquities, a first-of-its-kind ban.
“Our cooperation with the New York District Attorney’s Office has been eventful and fruitful, to say the least, during the last few years,” said Mohamed. “It is safe to say that we can open an entire museum solely based on the artifacts repatriated via the support and efforts of the District Attorney of New York, and for that, we are eternally grateful.”
Nine pieces seized from Steinhardt were sent back to the people of Egypt. They were trafficked by Israeli antiquities dealers Rafi Brown and Gil Chaya. Brown would purchase antiquities from unlicensed diggers, middlemen and smugglers, according to the DA. Chaya and his then-wife would buy illegal antiquities directly from looters.
Five of these pieces were described as an Egyptian Hoard made up of gold and silver ornaments and plaques dating to 1300-1101 B.C.E. The Egyptian Hoard first showed up on the international art market in 1999, when Steinhardt paid $70,000 for them from Brown with no prior documentation.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art had a total of six items taken. Five items taken from the Met, valued at $3.1 million, came from an investigation into the Dib-Simonian trafficking network. The pieces were looted from archaeological sites in Egypt, smuggled through Germany or the Netherlands to France, and sold by the Paris-based Pierre Bergé & Associés to the Met.
According to the DA’s office, this investigation resulted in the indictment or arrest of nine people in France, including former Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez. Two of these pieces were the Stele of a Singer, which was sold to the Met in 2015, and Fayum Mummy Portrait, which the Met purchased in 2013.
Another piece was seized from the Met as part of an investigation into trafficker Georges Lotfi. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by this DA’s office in early September.
A bronze statuette called Kneeling Ruler or Priest is said to be from the 8th Century B.C.E. Lofti bought the statuette in 2005 and sold it in 2006 to the Met.
The final piece was seized as part of another ongoing investigation.