June 26, 2005

Italian Getty case is “not just about the Getty”

Posted at 5:54 pm in Similar cases

Following on from the indictment of Marion True by the Italian courts last month, the Italians want to highlight that the Getty is far from the only museum that they believe has received artefacts from illegal digs. In this article, they also mention that the investigations cover several Etruscan items that are now in the British Museum.

The Sunday Times

June 26, 2005
Italy goes after the Getty for ‘receiving’ art
John Follain, Rome
THE curator of antiquities at California’s respected J Paul Getty Museum will go on trial in Italy next month accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods in a landmark case closely watched by the art world.

Marion True, 56, who has worked since 1982 for the Getty, one of the world’s richest collections, is also accused by Rome prosecutors of illicit receipt of archeological items.

The trial involves some 40 artefacts and follows a nine-year inquiry by Italy’s art squad, a unit of the carabinieri — the paramilitary police.

The most valuable is a 4th century BC stone sculpture of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Police believe the 7ft 6in statue — valued at $20m in 1987 when the Getty imported it — was smuggled from Sicily in the 1970s. Another allegedly stolen work is a small marble statue of Tyche, goddess of chance and prosperity, dating from the 2nd century BC.

Italian investigators believe they were among works stolen from archeological sites and then taken by a ring of a dozen art dealers to London via a rudimentary restoration laboratory in Switzerland. The dealers allegedly set up front companies, all registered in the same street in Geneva.

It is claimed cartel members in effect “laundered” the art by getting one company to put them up for auction in London and another to buy them back.

The ring allegedly traded up to 200 lots in a single sale. The total value of works that passed through London auction houses is estimated to be more than £100m. There is no suggestion that the auction houses knew that the works were stolen.

“Selling and buying through the auction house basically cleaned the artwork,” claimed an Italian investigator. “After it had gone through that process everyone would assume, or pretend to assume, that its origin was sound. What’s more, the work now had a price on it.”

A legal source in Rome said that True was not expected to attend the trial. The source predicted that even if she were convicted, America would be unlikely to extradite her. The charges carry a likely jail sentence of five to six years.

The Getty said it believed True would be exonerated. She has not commented. In her time at the Getty, True has returned several looted or stolen ancient Greek and Roman objects acquired before she took over.

A source at the Rome prosecutor’s office said the case was not just about the Getty.

“Foreign museums must stop turning a blind eye,” he said. “It’s not good enough just to send forms to art dealers asking about a work’s origin.” The source said that a guilty verdict would allow museums and auction houses in London and elsewhere to be investigated on suspicion of violating rules governing imports of works of art, handling stolen goods and “damaging Italy’s artistic heritage”.

Italian police said they were investigating works believed to have been stolen from Italian archeological sites, including several Etruscan ceramics now owned by the British Museum.

A museum spokeswoman said it had a stringent acquisitions policy and would “only acquire objects that are legally available for acquisition”.

Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper, dismissed the Italian attempts to stop art theft as “a complete farce”.

“It’s fine to go after art merchants who deal in stolen goods, but protecting Italy’s cultural heritage is a huge problem and persecuting institutions and auction houses is the wrong way to go about it,” she said.

“I’ve been to sites in Italy where there are huge thefts. The Italians have no security, and then they go after the institutions which are buying the stolen works.”

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