Looted Antiques Seized From Billionaire’s Home

Investigators raided the office and the Manhattan home of the billionaire Michael H. Steinhardt on Friday afternoon, carrying off several ancient works that prosecutors say were looted from Greece and Italy.

Mr. Steinhardt, a hedge-fund manager and philanthropist, has been collecting art from ancient Greece for three decades and has close ties to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where one of the galleries is named for him.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Steinhardt, 77, declined to comment, “for now,” on the seizure of at least nine pieces from his private collection at his Fifth Avenue apartment at 79th Street, a three-floor home that overlooks Central Park. The authorities also searched Mr. Steinhardt’s office at 712 Fifth Avenue.

The seizures marked the latest action in an effort by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to repatriate looted antiquities discovered in New York City to their countries of origin.

Over the last year, Mr. Vance has roiled the city’s rarefied art world, seizing work from major museums, auction houses and private collections. In recent months, he has returned three ancient statues to Lebanon, a mosaic from one of Caligula’s ships to Italy, and a second-century Buddhist sculpture to Pakistan.

Mr. Steinhardt Credit Evan Agostini/Invision, via Associated Press
Last month, Mr. Vance formed an antiquities-trafficking bureau to continue the work, putting it under the leadership of Matthew Bogdanos, an assistant district attorney who is a classics scholar and has headed most of the investigations.

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But the district attorney’s aggressive efforts have drawn criticism from collectors, who have argued such disputes over the provenance of ancient pieces would be better handled in a civil courts. Mr. Vance has been using a state law that allows prosecutors to return stolen property to its owner, though so far he has not brought charges against anyone for possessing the works.

Among the pieces seized on Friday from Mr. Steinhardt was a Greek white-ground attic lekythos — or oil vessel — from the fifth century B.C., depicting a funeral scene with the figures of a woman and a youth, according to the search warrant. It is worth at least $380,000.

Also seized were Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C., depicting an owl and a duck, together worth about $250,000. The other pieces included an Apulian terra-cotta flask in the shape of an African head from the fourth century B.C.; an Ionian sculpture of a ram’s head from the sixth century; and an attic aryballos, a vessel for oil or perfume, from the early fifth century. The objects were all bought in the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million, according to the warrants.