US returns trafficked antiquities to Egypt

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Authorities in New York announced Wednesday the return of 16 antiquities to Egypt, including five works that were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of a probe into international art trafficking.

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the 16 works were worth more than $16 million. He spoke a day after announcing a similar return of 58 artworks to Italy.

“Today’s repatriation shows the breadth and prevalence of antiquities trafficking networks,” Bragg said in a statement.

Nine of the pieces had been in the possession of Michael Steinhardt, whom Bragg described as one of the world’s largest collectors of ancient art.

In 2021, Steinhardt was forced by US authorities to return 180 stolen ancient artworks worth a total of $70 million.

Under that deal he avoided going to jail but was banned for life from acquiring antiquities in the legal market.

Five other pieces were seized in May and June from the Met, worth $3.1 million, as part of a probe carried out by US and French authorities and under which former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez was charged in France.

Those five pieces had been looted from archeological sites in Egypt, smuggled through Germany or the Netherlands to France, and sold by the Paris-based Pierre Berge & Associes to the Met, Bragg said.

“The information developed and shared by the Manhattan DA’s office with law-enforcement agencies around the world related to this investigation has led to the indictment or arrest of nine individuals in France, including the former Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez,” Bragg said.

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