The latest successes of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office against bad actors exploiting the American art market highlight a continuing weakness in the multibillion-dollar industry: self-regulation and voluntary policing haven’t worked.
In an op-ed for The Hill, Antiquities Coalition Founder and Chairman Deborah Lehr argues that recent cases such as that of Michael Steinhardt, Nancy Weiner, and Douglas Latchford show that criminal investigations and legal consequences are needed to halt the trade in illicit antiquities.
“In what industry, other than art, can you hunt out stolen property worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or even directly arrange for its theft, and then expect praise not prosecution if you give it back? Looting is a crime. Trafficking is a crime. Possession of stolen property is a crime. If you commit or facilitate any of these offenses, you should be held accountable. You deserve not only to lose the public’s trust but to become the focus of our justice system.”
Lehr urges the United States and other governments to take note and fight cultural racketeering as the crime that it is.
Read her full op-ed here.
Executive Director Tess Davis Presents At Conference, Celebrating Partnership
This month, our partners at Blue Shield International celebrated 25 years protecting heritage in conflicts, disasters and crises around the world. To commemorate this important milestone, leaders in the field gathered on December 14th and 15th at a virtual convening.
Pulling together the most knowledgeable experts in the field, this anniversary event provided a space for meaningful dialogue. Key takeaways of the event highlight the success of the Blue Shield since its foundation in 1996, the importance of collaboration between private and nonprofit organizations, and next steps for the organization and its partners in the fight against cultural heritage destruction.
- Executive Director Tess Davis spoke at the conference, celebrating over a year of direct partnership between the Antiquities Coalition and Blue Shield International. Joint efforts of the AC and Blue Shield include recent efforts to engage the International Criminal Court on issues of cultural heritage. In partnership with Genocide Watch, the AC submitted formal comments to the court, drawing on the expertise of counterterrorism experts, lawyers, archaeologists, and professionals from leading heritage organizations.
- In addition, Davis highlighted a recent Blue Shield collaboration on a Policy Brief with the AC Think Tank. The publication examines the UK’s recent decision to repeal the EU Regulation on the Introduction and the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880) in Great Britain. The brief’s author and Chair of U.K. Committee of the Blue Shield, Fionnuala Rogers, argued that the UK must take immediate steps to mitigate that risk policy gaps in the region. To read the full policy brief, click here.
The Antiquities Coalition applauds Blue Shield International’s mission and will continue to support them in their fight to protect cultural heritage in times of disaster.
To learn more about Blue Shield International and its mission, visit their website, here.
Michael Steinhardt Surrenders 180 Stolen Antiquities Valued at $70 million
Washington, December 6, 2021 — The Antiquities Coalition commends Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., his colleagues, and partners for the recovery of 180 stolen antiquities worth an estimated $70 million and securing a lifetime ban on acquiring ancient art for Michael H. Steinhardt.
Steinhardt, the hedge fund billionaire, has previously and repeatedly faced litigation for buying and selling looted and trafficked artifacts. To avoid criminal prosecution, he has now agreed to the unprecedented lifetime ban and to surrender the 180 illicit masterpieces in his collection. The Manhattan DA and Homeland Security Investigations are in the process of returning these cultural treasures to the 11 countries who are their rightful owners.
Many of the items relinquished by Steinhardt came from countries in conflict where extremists and organized crime are known to profit from the illicit trade. The United States is a prime destination for such “blood antiquities,” as it remains the largest art market in the world, with New York at its center. The Manhattan DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, alongside HSI, had recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $200 million before the Steinhardt seizure.
We applaud the ongoing efforts of Mr. Vance, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, and HSI to send a strong signal that collectors, auction houses, and museums will be held accountable for engaging in criminal behavior.
Read the D.A.’s Press Release here.