Pictured: “Veiled Head of a Female”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg today announced the return of “Veiled Head of a Female,” a marble antiquity dating back to 350 B.C.E valued at approximately $1,200,000, to the people of Libya. In December 2021, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office concluded a multi-year, multi-national criminal investigation into MICHAEL STEINHARDT, one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors, seizing 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million and imposing a first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities. The Veiled Head of a Female is the first object of that collection to be repatriated to its country of origin. The relic was returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by Chargé d’Affaires of the Libyan Embassy Khaled Daief, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Erik Rosenblatt.
“This remarkable antiquity is the first from Michael Steinhardt’s $70 million collection of 180 looted and stolen antiquities to be repatriated to its country of origin,” said District Attorney Bragg. “I’m honored to return this cultural treasure, which was looted from a tomb during a period of unrest, to the people of Libya. And, I look forward to returning the remainder of Steinhardt’s vast collection to the eleven different countries to which it is rightfully owed. As Manhattan D.A., I’m committed to ensuring transactions in the art industry are legal and those peddling in stolen or looted antiquities are shut down. While the million-dollar price-tag on this relic is impressive, you can’t put a price on a country’s cultural heritage.”
Chargé d’Affaires of the Libyan Embassy Khaled Daief said: “After a thorough investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, we are grateful for the opportunity to repatriate this cultural artifact. We would like to express our highest appreciation and gratitude for the efforts undertaken by the New York District Attorney and his staff, the Department of Homeland Security, and everyone that worked to ensure that this invaluable Libyan artifact returns to its homeland in Shahat Museum.”
Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York Erik Rosenblatt said “It is with great pleasure that we are returning the ‘veiled head of a female’ back to the nation of Libya, from where it was looted during civil unrest. Though this antiquity has a monetary value of more than $1.2 million, it is the historical and sentimental value of the antiquities that renders it priceless to the people of Libya. It is with HSI’s ongoing collaboration with the Manhattan DA’s office that we will continue to ensure invaluable pieces of history repatriated to their home country.”
According to filed documents, STEINHARDT purchased the Veiled Head of a Female in November 2000. The antiquity originated from a tomb at the ancient city of Cyrene (modern day Shahhat, Libya). In 1999, scientific excavations in this area were forced to shut down due to growing unrest and governmental instability and tombs in Cyrene began to suffer extensive looting. It was immediately after these reports of looting that the Veiled Head of a Female first appeared on the market.
The criminal investigation into STEINHARDT began in February 2017. While investigating the Bull’s Head, which was stolen from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War, the D.A.’s Office determined STEINHARDT had purchased the multi-million-dollar statue then subsequently loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Months after seizing the piece, the D.A.’s Office announced the formation of its Antiquities Trafficking Unit with the repatriation of the Bull’s Head and the Calf Bearer, a second multi-million-dollar marble statute seized from STEINHARDT, to the Lebanese Republic in December 2017.
In the process of uncovering the Lebanese statues, the D.A.’s Office learned that STEINHARDT possessed additional looted antiquities at his apartment and office, and, soon after, initiated a grand jury criminal investigation into his acquisition, possession, and sale of more than 1,000 antiquities since at least 1987. As part of this inquiry into criminal conduct by STEINHARDT, the D.A.’s Office executed 17 judicially-ordered search warrants and conducted joint investigations with law-enforcement authorities in 11 countries: Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Turkey.
Of STEINHARDT’s acquisitions, the D.A.’s Office developed compelling evidence that 180 were stolen from their country of origin. In addition to their universal lack of provenance, the pieces exhibited numerous other evidentiary indicators of looting. Prior to STEINHARDT’s purchase, 171 of the 180 seized antiquities first surfaced in the possession of individuals who law-enforcement authorities later determined to be antiquities traffickers—some of whom have been convicted of antiquities trafficking; 101 first appeared dirty (or unrestored) in photographs; and 100 appeared covered in dirt or encrustations prior to STEINHARDT’s purchase. Many of the seized antiquities were trafficked following civil unrest or looting.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, handled the investigation with Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer and Special Agent John Paul Labbat. Additional support for the investigation was provided by the late Jill (Gilda) Mariani, Senior Investigative Counsel, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, and Daniel Healey.
District Attorney Bragg thanked HSI New York, the Embassy of Libya in D.C., Morgan Belzic of the Institut National D’Histoire de l’Art, and the French Archaeological Mission in Libya for their assistance with the matter.