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Hedge fund pioneer and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million and has been banned for life from acquiring antiquities, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Monday.
The surrender of the items comes after a probe that began in 2017 into the billionaire Steinhardt’s “criminal conduct,” the DA’s office said in a statement. The agreement ends a grand jury probe of Steinhardt, meaning he will not be criminally charged in the case, according to DA’s office.
“The seized pieces were looted and illegally smuggled out of 11 countries, trafficked by 12 criminal smuggling networks, and lacked verifiable provenance prior to appearing on the international art market, according to the Statement of Facts summarizing the investigation,” the office said.
Vance said that the agreement with Steinhardt, 80, will return the stolen items to their rightful owners in those countries, instead of being held as evidence “to complete the grand jury indictment, trial, potential conviction and sentence.”
The agreement comes three years after Steinhardt’s office and home were raided by investigators as part of Vance’s probe. The DA said Steinhardt’s agreement to accept a lifetime ban from acquiring antiquities was “unprecedented.”
“Even though Steinhardt’s decades-long indifference to the rights of peoples to their own sacred treasures is appalling, the interests of justice prior to indictment and trial favor a resolution that ensures that a substantial portion of the damage to world cultural heritage will be undone, once and for all,” Vance said.
Steinhardt founded his company Steinhardt Partners LLP in 1967. He closed the hedge fund in 1995. Steinhardt also served 15 years as chairman of the board of Wisdom Tree Investments before retiring in 2019.
Steinhardt’s lawyers, Andrew Levander and Theodore Wells Jr., in a statement, said, “Mr. Steinhardt is pleased that the District Attorney’s years-long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”
“Many of the dealers from whom Mr. Steinhardt bought these items made specific representations as to the dealers’ lawful title to the items, and to their alleged provenance,” the lawyer said. “To the extent these representations were false, Mr. Steinhardt has reserved his rights to seek recompense from the dealers involved.”
The DA’s office said that the probe began when investigators looked into the statue of a Lebanese bull’s head, which was stolen during the Lebanese Civil War.
That investigation determined Steinhardt had bought that multi-million-dollar statue and later loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the office said. That statue was seized, as was a second marble statue of a calf bearer, which also was from Lebanon, and which had also been bought by Steinhardt for millions of dollars.
“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, the office said.
“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.
Vance said in a statement, “For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe,”
“His pursuit of ‘new’ additions to showcase and sell knew no geographic or moral boundaries, as reflected in the sprawling underworld of antiquities traffickers, crime bosses, money launderers, and tomb raiders he relied upon to expand his collection,” Vance said.
In 2019, The New York Times reported that six women had accused Steinhardt of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations.
The Times report, which also cited a lawsuit filed by another woman, said he had made sexual requests when the women sought support from the philanthropist. The Times also reported that Steinhardt appeared in two sexual harassment lawsuits, but was not named as a defendant in either case.
The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life called the Times report “intentionally defamatory.”
But in a statement, the foundation also said Steinhardt’s “sense of humor can be insensitive, and he has apologized for the unintended bad feelings his remarks have caused.” The website includes a statement from the billionaire, who denies ever trying to touch anyone inappropriately.
Vance’s office detailed a number of the items surrendered by Steinhardt.
- The Stag’s Head Rhyton, depicting a finely wrought stag’s head in the form of a ceremonial vessel for libations, purchased from The Merrin Gallery for $2.6 million in November 1991. The item, which dates to 400 B.C.E., first appeared without provenance on the international art market after rampant looting in Milas, Turkey. In March 1993, Steinhardt loaned the Stag’s Head Rhyton to the Met, where it remained until the D.A.’s Office applied for and received a warrant to seize it. Today, the Stag’s Head Rhyton is valued at $3.5 million.
- The Larnax, a small chest for human remains from Greek Island of Crete that dates between 1400-1200 B.C.E., purchased from known antiquities trafficker Eugene Alexandervia Seychelles-headquartered FAM Services for $575,000 in October 2016. Alexander instructed Steinhard to pay FAM Services via Satabank, a Malta-based financial institution later suspended for money laundering. While complaining about a subpoena requesting provenance documentation for a different stolen antiquity, Steinhardt pointed to the Larnax and said to an investigator with A.T.U.: “You see this piece? There’s no provenance for it. If I see a piece and I like it, then I buy it.” Today, the Larnax is valued at $1 million.
- The Ercolano Fresco purchased from convicted antiquities trafficker Robert Hechtand and his antiquities restorer Harry Burki with no prior provenance for $650,000 in November 1995. Depicting an infant Hercules strangling a snake sent by Hera to slay him, the Ercolano Fresco dates to 50 C.E. and was looted in 1995 from a Roman villa in the ruins of Herculaneum, located near modern Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It first appeared on the international art market on November 10, 1995 when Hecht’s business partner wrote Steinhardt regarding a “crate being delivered to you soon” with the artifact inside. Today, the Ercolano Fresco is valued at $1 million.
- The Gold Bowl looted from Nimrud, Iraq, and purchased from Svatoslav Konkin with no prior provenance for $150,000 in July 2020. Beginning in 2015, objects from Nimrud were trafficked when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targeted cultural heritage from Nimrud, Hatra, and Khorsabad, particularly ancient objects made of gold or precious metal. The Gold Bowl, which is crafted from gold with a scalloped flower design, first surfaced on the international art market in October 2019, when a Customs and Border Patrol officer notified the D.A.’s Office that Konkin was on a flight from Hong Kong to Newark, New Jersey, hand-carrying the Gold Bowl for Steinhardt. Today, the Gold Bowl is valued at $200,000.
- Three Death Masks purchased from known antiquities trafficker GIL CHAYA with no provenance whatsoever for $400,000 in October 2007, less than a year after they surfaced on the international art market. The Death Masks (circa 6000 to 7000 B.C.E.) were crafted from stone and originated in the foothills of the Judean mountains, most likely in the Shephelah in Israel. They appear soil-encrusted and covered in dirt in photographs recovered by Israeli law-enforcement authorities. Today, the Death Masks are valued at $650,000.
European Central Bank heads into pivotal meeting with omicron infections rising
Christine Lagarde, president of the ECB, speaks at the Bank’s press conference in Frankfurt, Germany.
Boris Roessler | picture alliance | Getty Images
With inflation surging and the omicron Covid variant expected to spread through the region, the European Central Bank has the unenviable task of presenting its policy outlook for 2022 on Thursday.
The rise in the cost of living for the euro area (the 19 nations that share the euro) reached a record high of 4.9% in November, while omicron looks likely to become the dominant coronavirus strain with some European economies already locked down due to the delta variant.
“The sharp rise in infections and inflation and the emergence of the new Omicron variant has complicated the picture to an extent that the Governing Council may need more time to decide on all the details of adjusting its non-conventional policy tool,” said Dirk Schumacher, an ECB watcher with Natixis, in a recent research note.
The institution led by Christine Lagarde developed a new bond-buying program in the wake of the coronavirus in March 2020 to support the euro zone. The PEPP is due to end in March 2022 with a potential total envelope of 1.85 trillion euros ($2.19 trillion).
The ECB has also kept its asset purchase program, known as APP, amid the pandemic which has a current monthly pace of 20 billion euros. The central bank has been using this program in combination with PEPP to sustain the 19-member economy.
Schumacher added that Natixis still expects an announcement that the PEPP program will end by March and “we expect a clear signal that the APP will be used in a more flexible way.”
A big focus of this week’s meeting will be the new staff projections for inflation and growth. They show whether the inflation target of 2% will be met over the medium term, which is ultimately ECB’s primary mandate.
“I see an inflation profile which looks like a hump. So it has clearly increased over the last three quarters and we know how painful it is,” Lagarde said at a Reuters conference on Dec. 3,
“And a hump eventually declines and this is what we project for 2022,” she added.
Another key question is how the ECB will bridge the end of the PEPP program at the end of March into a more flexible and potentially larger APP without provoking major market volatility and keeping financial conditions on “favourable” terms. The ECB is expected to stress the need for flexibility.
“Flexibility, in our view, means varying purchases depending on the inflation outlook and financing conditions, i.e. preserving the principle of ‘favourable financing conditions’ that characterises the PEPP,” Spyros Andreopoulos, a senior European economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note.
“This view has been supported by recent ECB rhetoric that has emphasised the need to maintain flexibility, as opposed to pre-committing to a fixed volume of purchases.”
UK inflation hits 10-year high ahead of key Bank of England meeting
Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk through the rain on Oxford Street in London on June 18, 2020, as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown.
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LONDON — U.K. inflation climbed to a 10-year high in November as consumer prices continued to soar ahead of the Bank of England‘s crunch monetary policy meeting on Thursday.
The Consumer Price Index rose by 5.1% in the 12 months to November, up from 4.2% in October, which was itself the steepest incline for a decade and more than double the central bank’s target.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 4.7% for November, and the Bank of England had projected that inflation would hit 5% in the spring of 2022 before moderating towards its 2% target in late 2023.
On a monthly basis, U.K. inflation rose 0.7% in November from October, above a Reuters poll for a 0.4% increase.
Core CPI, which excludes volatile energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices, rose by 4% year-on-year against a Reuters forecast of 3.7%, and 0.5% month-on-month versus a 0.3% projection.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee meets Thursday to decide whether to tighten monetary policy, with inflation surging and the labor market remaining robust, but the rapid spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant has cast fresh uncertainty over the economic recovery in the short term.
The MPC defied market expectations in November by voting 7-2 to hold interest rates at their historic low of 0.1%, but analysts are split on whether it will pull the trigger on rate hikes on Thursday in light of the emergence of omicron.
“Unfortunately for consumers, peak inflation may still be a few months off. Today’s CPI data only serves to increase the pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates at its MPC meeting tomorrow,” said Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot.
“However, the Bank of England may well decide that discretion is the better part of valour and instead opt to wait until next year given the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, coupled with the risk that further restrictions may need to be introduced before long.”
Most Chinese companies could delist from US, says TCW Group
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Chinese companies listed on Wall Street will likely to be cut off from U.S. capital markets in the next three years as tensions between Beijing and Washington persist, says one global asset management firm.
“I think for a lot of Chinese companies listed in U.S. markets, it’s essentially game over,” David Loevinger, managing director for emerging markets sovereign research at TCW Group, told CNBC Wednesday. “This is an issue that’s been hanging out there for 20 years — we haven’t been able to solve it.”
TCW Group had $265.8 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021, according to the company’s website.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month finalized rules to implement a law that would allow the market regulator to ban foreign companies listed in the U.S. from trading if their auditors do not comply with requests for information from American regulators.
The law was passed in 2020 after Chinese regulators repeatedly denied requests from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to inspect the audits of Chinese firms that list and trade in the United States.
Given the current level of distrust between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and with the bilateral relationship unlikely to improve anytime soon, there is “no way we are going to solve this in the next few years,” Loevinger said.
“So the reality is, I think, by 2024, most Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges are no longer going to be listed in the United States. Most are going to gravitate back to Hong Kong or Shanghai,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”
Less than six months after going public, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it will start delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and make plans to list in Hong Kong instead.
When a company delists from an exchange like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange, it loses access to a broad pool of buyers, sellers and intermediaries.
Chinese regulators were reportedly unhappy with Didi’s decision to list in the U.S. without first resolving outstanding cybersecurity concerns. Regulators told the firm’s executives to come up with a plan to delist from the U.S. due to concerns around data leakage, according to reports.
Beyond Didi, many of China’s top internet companies listed in the U.S. have already undertaken dual listings in Hong Kong. Some high-profile names include e-commerce giant Alibaba, its rival JD.com, search engine giant Baidu, gaming firm NetEase and social media giant Weibo.
“We have already hit the turning point,” Loevinger said, pointing to Didi’s delisting announcement. “I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.”
“And if U.S. regulators can’t get access to those documents, then they can’t protect U.S. markets from fraud,” he added.