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Getty museum returns treasures as curator faces fraud inquiry
Richard Owen
The Times 4/10/2005

The J. Paul Getty Museum, in California, suffered a double setback yesterday in its battle to fend off charges that it knowingly bought stolen Italian art treasures.
The museum, one of the world's wealthiest art institutions, agreed to return to Italy three of the forty-two disputed treasures in what it described as a "goodwill gesture". It also announced that its curator of antiquities had resigned after she was accused of breaking the museum's rules by buying a villa on a Greek island with a loan arranged by one of the museum's main suppliers.
Marion True, 56, goes on trial in Rome next month charged with dealing in stolen antiquities, and if convicted may face up to ten years in jail. She has denied all charges.
Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian Culture Minister, said that he was sending an official to Los Angeles to collect the three works being surrendered: a krater (vase) decorated by the Greek painter Asteas of Paestum, a bronze Etruscan candelabra and a Greek epigraph (inscription) from Sicily.
The museum had defended Ms True against charges of wrongdoing but she was forced to resign after being confronted over a $400,000 (227,000) loan that she secured with the help of the late Christo Michailidis, a London-based art dealer, who was among the Getty's biggest suppliers of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.
Museum officials told the Los Angeles Times that she had used the loan to buy a villa on the island of Paros, in the Cyclades. She had turned to Mr Michailidis, who died in 1999, because American banks would not lend money on Greek property, and Greek banks refused
to give loans to foreigners. He introduced her to Dimitri Peppas, an Athens lawyer, who deposited the money in a Swiss bank. Italian officials said that Interpol was investigating where the money came from.
The museum's battle with the Italian Government dates from 1995, when investigators found in a warehouse in Geneva thousands of items looted from ruins and excavations. A paper trail led to respected collectors and museums including the Getty.
Ms True and Robert Hecht Jr, an American dealer in Paris, go on trial on November 16. Italian officials notified the Getty five years ago that Ms True was under investigation for allegedly conspiring to buy looted art. Last week the Los Angeles Times quoted a letter from Mr Hecht to Ms True admitting that an urn he had offered to the museum, which it later bought for $42,000, was being sought by Italian police.


BUILT ON OIL
■ The Getty Museum was founded in 1953 by John Paul Getty, the oil billionaire, who died in 1976
■ The first museum opened in a house in Malibu and was replaced in 1974 by the Getty Villa, modelled on that of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar, at Herculaneum
■ In 1997 the Getty Centre, designed by Richard Meier, opened in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Las Angeles, to house the expanding collection
■ Marion True oversaw a $275 million renovation of the Getty Villa in her time as curator of antiquities



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