(GIN)—A golden bowl, a ceremonial libations vessel, a marble statue and a small chest for human remains were among the 180 reputedly stolen antiquities that decorated the homes and offices of a Brooklyn billionaire whose collection of the ancient artifacts was valued at $80 million.

Under a deal struck by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a multi-year, multinational investigation of artifacts in the possession of hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt will not be prosecuted.

Steinhardt is one of the world’s most prolific buyers of ancient art and a dedicated supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which named one of its Greek art galleries the Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery.

When the government seized at least nine items from his private collection, including a terra-cotta flask from the fourth century B.C. and Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C. Forbes magazine carried a piece on the scandal titled “Ancient History for Sale.”

According to the search warrants, the pieces were purchased within the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million and there is a possible charge of possession of stolen property, noted the Columbia University Journal of Law and the Arts.

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. 

Prosecutors said Steinhardt had owned and traded more than 1,000 antiquities since 1987, and his art collection was valued at about $200 million.

“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,” District Attorney Vance was quoted to say in a press release from his office. “[Steinhardt’s] 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.”

Joint investigations were conducted with authorities in Libya, Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey.

The investigation began in 2017 over a 2,000-year-old Bull’s Head stolen from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. It was determined that Steinhardt had purchased the multimillion-dollar statue then subsequently loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Following an order from New York prosecutors, the Met surrendered the bull’s head, which is believed to be a stolen item.

Vance continued: “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.”

“This agreement establishes that Steinhardt will be subject to an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities,” he concluded.

Steinhardt’s lawyer praised the decision that ended with no charges against Steinhardt for items bought from “traffickers and tomb raiders” as long as Steinhardt returned them “expeditiously” to their native countries.

Steinhardt, 81, is a major contributor to New York University and to numerous charitable groups. There is a Steinhardt conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a Steinhardt Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property has been on top of the radar screen of UNESCO, a U.N. cultural organization which condemned an upsurge in the looting of archeological sites and the dismantling of ancient monuments as far back as 1930.

Their initiatives picked up steam this year at an international conference on the illicit trade in cultural goods estimated to be worth nearly $10 billion each year.

African countries which have sought the return of objects looted during the colonial era are Ethiopia, Benin, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Holland and Nigeria.

w/pix of Somali book fair

A BOOK FAIR BLOSSOMS IN MOGADISHU

(GIN)—A Book Fair is flowering in Mogadishu, bringing the world of literature and other areas of learning to a region challenged by the coronavirus pandemic and political tension linked to disagreements over the ongoing parliamentary elections in the country.

The event had been suspended last year due to COVID-19.

This year’s event was limited in size but according to the founder of the fair, Mohamed Diini, organizers are already working to accommodate more people next year.

Book fairs are a popular event across the continent. Every summer, for example, the Hargeisa International Book Fair is held in Somaliland, bringing writers, poets, artists and thinkers from around the world to share and discuss their literary works with a wider audience.

The goal of the event, say organizers, is to promote a culture of reading and writing in the region by producing and publishing high quality Somali literature and translating international classical literature: fiction, poetry and drama into the Somali language.

The event is considered the main cultural event in Somaliland and one of the largest public celebrations of books in East Africa. Organized by the Redsea Online Culture Foundation, the event aims to stimulate the revival of all forms of art and human expression, including painting, poetry reciting, story-telling, drama composition and writing.

The Somali Moving Library Tour is the Book Fair’s flagship outreach event. It takes place a week before the opening of the festival in Hargeisa and is held across all regions of Somaliland.

Other countries with upcoming book events are South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. An African Book Festival will be held Aug. 19-21 in Berlin, among others. 

Ghana holds a special place on the continent as Unesco’s World Book Capital to be held April 23, 2023. 

w/pix of Herder and camels

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LONGEST DRY SPELL IN MEMORY TAKES TOLL ON KENYA’S NOMADS

(GIN)—Kenya’s crucial rainy season came up short this year with only a few showers—wiping out livestock and putting millions of people at risk.

Photographs from Wajir County, near the border with Somalia, show dying and dead cows in a desert dotted with thorn trees. The longest dry spell in memory is pushing pastoralists nearer to starvation. “If they die,” said one herder referring to his camels, “we all die.”

“The rains have stopped now, so there is no hope of any other rain unless a miracle happens,” says Yusuf Abdi Gedi, Wajir’s local official for livestock and agriculture.

Since September, much of Kenya’s north has received less than 30% of normal rainfall—the worst short-rain season recorded in decades, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The lack of rainfall has wiped out pastures and exacerbated food and water shortages.

The Wajir County administration is struggling to cope with the scale of the emergency and has hired 40 extra trucks on top of 18 of their own to distribute water. However, community leaders in Dahabley and Eyrib say they have not received government aid. “We have about 400 villages and we were not able to reach all of them,” says Abdi Gedi.

“We need three [trucks] a week for the 350 households in Dujis,” says Muhumed Noor, chair of Dujis village in Garissa, Wajir’s neighboring county. Noor. But with no healthy livestock to sell, the community is struggling to pay the drivers, who refuse to leave without payment.

Wajir has not received any extra funds from the national government since the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared a national disaster in September, according to the Wajir local official. “That was supposed to trigger support from the international community,” he says, adding that it had not happened to the extent needed.

The drought has been mounting for years but until the crisis peaks, news organizations and the international donors have their attention elsewhere.

Deterioration in the region’s food security situation has resulted in an estimated 2.1 million people facing acute food insecurity and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in the next six months. Compared to the short rains’ assessment, this is an increase from 1.4 million found to be acutely food insecure. The deterioration is attributed to the dismal performance of the March-May Long rains season, climate change compounded by the effects of COVID-19 and the poor performance of the previous short rains season.

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