US Returns Looted Billionaire Artifacts to Jordan | Radio WGN 720

JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. authorities have returned nine looted artifacts that were seized from a billionaire U.S. collector to Jordan in a landmark deal announced in December.

The artifacts were among 180 items seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as part of a deal with collector Michael Steinhardt to return the artifacts as trafficked and avoid prosecution. The deal capped a four-year investigation into Steinhardt’s possession of looted antiquities.

Jordan’s Ministry of Antiquities and the US Embassy in Jordan held a ceremony in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on Tuesday, showcasing the items that were “illegally smuggled from Jordan and obtained by an antiquities collector from the United States,” the embassy said in a statement.

“This demonstrates the commitment of the United States to help protect Jordan’s cultural heritage. With today’s repatriation of Jordanian antiquities, we are delivering on that promise,” said Ambassador Henry T. Wooster.

Press releases from U.S. and Jordanian authorities did not mention Steinhardt by name, but seven of the artifacts that appeared in photos released by the ministry matched the description of Jordanian objects in court documents.

Two ancient Jewish tombstones that were looted in Jordan and purchased by Steinhardt from an Israeli antiquities dealer do not appear in photos from the press conference. The director of Jordan’s ministry of antiquities did not respond to request for comment.

Since the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced the deal in December, US authorities have returned artifacts looted by Steinhardt to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Libya, Iraq and now Jordan. Steinhardt was not charged with looting any items himself and said he did not commit any crime. But the prosecutor’s office said it “knew, or should have satisfied itself by reasonable inquiry” that the antiquities were stolen.

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

Of the 40 artifacts repatriated to Israel under the deal, at least 22 were believed to have been looted from sites in the West Bank, according to court documents. Steinhardt “was unable to locate” nine of these pieces, and three more are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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

The prosecutor’s office said artifacts from the occupied West Bank would be returned to the Israeli government “in accordance with the Oslo Accords,” the 1995 interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which stipulates that the return of West Bank artifacts to Palestinians should be resolved. in a final yet elusive peace agreement.

Jihad Yassin, an official with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said materials from the West Bank should be returned to the Palestinians and that his department was preparing to submit a report to UNESCO on the matter.

Steinhardt, 81, is a hedge fund founder and philanthropist who chairs the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. He is also a co-founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sends young Jews on free trips to Israel and a prominent patron of the Israel Museum and other institutions in the country.

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