November 16, 2005

Ex-Getty curator appears at ‘stolen art’ trial

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - A former curator at the J. Paul Getty
Museum in Los Angeles appeared in a Rome court on Wednesday to
face charges of acquiring stolen artifacts, in a trial
spotlighting the shady side of the global art trade.

Prosecutors say the case, part of efforts by the Italian
government to crack down on the trade of illegally excavated or
stolen archaeological treasures, will put pressure on museums
worldwide to verify the origin of the art works they purchase.

"Museums all over the world that have knowingly acquired
art in a negligent or fraudulent way must stop doing this,"
prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri told reporters.

It was the first time Marion True, who quit her job at the
Getty last month, had attended the court since her trial opened
with a single session in July.

The 57-year old made no comment to the press and was
visibly distressed as her lawyers shielded her away from
cameras after Wednesday's hearing, which dealt mainly with
procedural issues.

True denies charges of criminal conspiracy to receive
stolen goods and illegal receipt of archaeological artifacts
brought by Italian prosecutors after a decade-long


Art experts say the international trade in stolen
antiquities is worth billions of dollars every year and that
the buying practices of many museums, particularly in the
United States, are highly questionable.

"The whole thing is not remotely clean," said Elizabeth
Fentress, an archaeology research fellow at the British School
of Rome, a center of study on Italian culture and art.

Italy and France are two top targets for looters and
traffickers, accounting for more than 12,000 stolen pieces of
art every year.

The Getty museum, one of the world's richest art
institutions, returned three disputed works to Italy last week.
But Italy's culture minister said he would not be satisfied
until another 39 treasures acquired by True, including a prized
ancient Greek statue of Aphrodite, came home.

Authorities in Rome have said more disputed works are held
by another eight U.S. museums, including New York's
Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The director of the Metropolitan will travel to Italy next
week to discuss the allegations, Italian news agency ANSA said.

The investigation that brought True to court began in 1995
when Swiss police seized thousands of documents and photographs
along with some 4,000 stolen artifacts. Investigators say the
paper trail showed how a group of people traded in and
"laundered" stolen antiquities.

In 2000 the evidence was sent to Italy and served as the
basis for a trial of Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici, who is
appealing a recent 10-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors accuse True of knowingly acquiring stolen
artifacts from Medici and another art dealer, Paris-based
Emanuel Robert Hecht, who is also a defendant in the Rome