On Friday, January 5, 2018, the Manhattan DA’s office initiated two sets of seizures of cultural antiquities. The first set targeted the New York City residence and offices of Michael Steinhardt, a prominent Manhattan businessman and art collector. The second targeted Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealership currently operated by Hicham and Ali Aboutaam, and founded by their father Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968. The family-owned dealership operates galleries in New York and Geneva, and the Aboutaams have been implicated frequently in provenance and looting cases, especially those concerning ancient Greek and Roman art.
According to the warrant, the list of antiquities seized from Steinhardt’s possession includes:
- A Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), circa 420 B.C., purchased in 2006 for $380,000;
- A Proto-Corinthian Duck, circa 650-625 B.C., purchased in 2009 for $130,000; and
- A Corinthian Bull’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”), circa 580 B.C., purchased in 2009 for $60,000.
Among the antiquities seized from Phoenix Art are the following:
- A Rhodian Seated Monkey (the “Seated Monkey”), circa 580-550 B.C, valued at $150,000.;
- A Attic Female Head Flask (the “Female Head Flask”), circa 500-490 B.C., valued at $80,000 ; and
- A Corinthian Sea-Serpent (the “Sea-Serpent”) from the 6th century B.C., valued at $140,000.
The January 5th seizures are just the latest in a series of raids conducted by the Manhattan DA’s office of cultural antiquities from private collections.
Cultural property theft is usually prosecuted by federal authorities rather than state authorities, because it often involves transfer over state lines, and because determining provenance of ancient art requires specialized knowledge. Under the leadership of DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and assistant DA Matthew Bogdanos, however, the Manhattan DA’s office has mounted a particularly robust campaign against antiquities theft. The office has both the resources and expertise to do so. While serving in the Marine Corps in 2003, Bogdanos led the investigation into the lootings of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) blog reports that the office has recovered more than $150 million worth of antiquities since 2012.