November 5, 2005

Danish & Japanese museums implicated in Getty case

Posted at 6:59 pm in Similar cases

As well as The Met, The MFA, The Getty, the Princeton & the Toledo (Ohio) museums, the institutions potentially implicated in the Italian’s case against the Getty has broadened again.
Records show suggesting that Sothebys was involved in many of these dealings now point to Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen & two Japanese museums as having acquired artefacts from one of the dealers being investigated in the case.
Neither the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek or the two Japanese Museums have yet been charged by the Italian authorities.

Bloomberg News

Smuggling Ring Used Sotheby’s 110 Times, Italian Probes Show
Nov. 4 (Bloomberg)

A smuggling ring put at least 110 Italian antiquities up for sale at Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and supplied 96 looted objects to 10 museums around the world, according to charges contained in Italian indictments and a judge’s sentence of a convicted smuggler.

The global scale of the alleged ring’s trade — worth tens of millions of dollars and involving museums from Tokyo to Toledo, Ohio — is outlined in a series of cases that Italian prosecutors are bringing, in part to keep looted archaeological artifacts from auction houses and museums, the papers obtained by Bloomberg News show.

“A critical point has been reached, where the laxness, and sometimes the complicity of some museums in the U.S., and elsewhere, has been exposed,” said Colin Renfrew, 68, a Cambridge University archaeology professor and member of the U.K. House of Lords. “The current trial is an important one.”

Sotheby’s, the largest publicly traded auction house, helped the alleged ring launder looted artifacts, Judge Guglielmo Muntoni of the Rome Tribunal wrote in sentencing Roman dealer Giacomo Medici, 67, to 10 years in prison for receiving and exporting stolen antiquities.

“Selling and re-buying the same artifacts, Medici and his associates were able to trade in `clean’ works of art, sellable to whomever they wanted at the prices they themselves set at auction,” Muntoni said in his decision filed May 12, which catalogs 110 items Medici put up for sale from 1983 through 1994 at Sotheby’s in London and New York.

Medici sold stolen antiquities at Sotheby’s “thanks to the absolute absence of controls on the part of the auction house and the complicity offered by its employees,” Muntoni wrote.

Sales Halted

Sotheby’s isn’t charged with any crime, and Medici, who says he’s innocent, isn’t serving his sentence while he appeals.

Sotheby’s spokeswoman Helen Griffith in London said the company conducted a 10-month review of its antiquities business in 1997. “It found no substantive deviation from the company’s longstanding policy that employees may not violate or assist in the violation of the laws of any country,” she said.

The review came after U.K. journalist Peter Watson’s 1997 book “Sotheby’s: Inside Story” and an accompanying television documentary used company documents and hidden-camera reporting to show how the auction house facilitated smuggling and sold antiquities known to have been stolen from tombs.

As a result of the review, Sotheby’s stopped holding regular antiquities sales in London and appointed a worldwide compliance officer, Griffith said.

Watson’s report and testimony were among the evidence used to convict Medici, and will also be presented at coming trials in Rome, the court documents say.

Prosecutors in Rome are building cases against at least 11 others besides Medici, including the former antiquities curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Marion True, and an assortment of art dealers and restorers, the documents show.

Rome Trial

True, 56, goes on trial Nov. 16 along with U.S. dealer Robert Hecht, 86, who lives in Paris and New York. They are charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen antiquities. Hecht is also charged with illicit export.

Hecht denied the charges, and the Getty, speaking for True who declined comment, has said it expects her to be exonerated.

Prosecutors describe Hecht and Medici as the ringleaders of a smuggling conspiracy that supplied at least 10 of the world’s biggest museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, according to Medici’s sentence and the indictments of True and Hecht.

While the museums aren’t charged with crimes, the cases should lead them to strengthen their acquisitions policies and return looted items to Italy, says Giuseppe Proietti, head of the Italian Culture Ministry’s department of research, innovation and organization.

Under Pressure

“I hope it puts pressure on them,” Proietti said in an interview, singling out museums with public funding, such as the Metropolitan. The Met gets money from New York City and New York State, and its buildings are owned by the city, which provides it with heat and power, according to the Met web site.

“When we talk about prestigious museums with the public trust and funding, you have to pay attention to how they use this money,” he says.

At least 85 items that came from looting or smugglers have been tracked to six U.S. museums, the records show.

The Getty has acquired or handled at least 52 such antiquities, according to charges against Hecht, Medici and True that were contained in Italian court documents.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has eight such pieces, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has 22, and the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio, each have one, the documents say.

European Museums

In Europe, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen has six allegedly looted items, all of which came through Medici, including the decorations of an Etruscan chariot for which Hecht is also charged, the documents show. Munich’s Antikensammlungen also has a kylix, or cup, and a krater pot for mixing wine, each of which is included in the charges against Hecht, his indictment shows.

In Japan, the Miho Museum near Kyoto has one allegedly looted piece, a 2,000-year-old bronze statuette, and a museum of ancient Mediterranean art in Tokyo has two pieces, both Greek-style pots, documents in Medici’s case say.

Italian judges haven’t charged the museums with any crime.

MFA spokeswoman Dawn Griffin in Boston said that, excluding coin collections, it has at least 116 objects that originated with Hecht, a number reported earlier this week by the Boston Globe. Including coins, the MFA has at least 1,317 items from Hecht, she said.

“Does that mean it’s looted?” Griffin asked. “We need specifics and we would need to be contacted by the Italian government.”

Met, Getty, Princeton

A Metropolitan spokesman, Harold Holzer, declined to discuss specific objects. “In February 2005, the Metropolitan Museum wrote the Italian Ministry of Culture requesting a full discussion of works in the Metropolitan’s collection that were the subject of the Ministry’s concern,” the museum said in a statement. “No meeting has yet been scheduled.”

The J. Paul Getty Trust’s board of trustees said Oct. 29 it was forming a committee and hiring outside lawyers to review the acquisitions of objects in its antiquities collection.

Ruta Smithson, a spokeswoman for the Princeton museum, says it has provided the Italian authorities with information about the object named in Hecht’s indictment, a psykter, which is a vase for cooling wine.

The Toledo museum’s spokeswoman, Jordan Rundgren, said, “Our museum has not been contacted by the Italian government.” The Cleveland museum’s director of external affairs, Donna Brock, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Museum Cooperating

In Denmark, the Copenhagen museum said it dealt with Hecht some 30 years ago. “We have been in touch with the Italian authorities and have exchanged all information that was requested, so this case now doesn’t affect us,” Jette Christiansen, museum keeper at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, said in a telephone interview.

Spokespeople for the Munich museum, including the head of administration, Eva Maria Prochazka, didn’t respond to requests for comment. The museums in Japan, where it was a national holiday Thursday, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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