The Marion True trial continues: is there any progression in the courtroom?

The Art Newspaper reports on the events of the continuing trial



The latest hearing in the trial of the former Getty antiquities curator, accused of allegedly conspiring to receive illegally excavated antiquities, took place in Rome on 8 March; the tomb robber Pietro Casasanta, who was scheduled to take the stand, was apparently ill and failed to turn up.

The prosecuting attorney, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, gave both the prosecution and defence copies of documents, obtained by Swiss police at the request of Italian prosecutors. These were related to third parties connected with the case. A ruling on whether these documents will be admissible as evidence has not yet been made.

Roberto Conforti, head of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Artistico, Italy’s specialist police art squad, for 11 years until his retirement in 2002, told the court how antiquities made their way out of Italy, to Switzerland, then to the rest of Europe and the US, and more recently to Japan and Australia. “Globalisation also affects crime,” he said.

Mr Conforti then discussed his initial suspicions about the Morgantina silver hoard [which the Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return to Italy] and a statue of Venus in the Getty which, he says, has also been looted from Morgantina.

He described two meetings with Ms True, the first arranged in the mid 1990s through the Italian cultural attaché in Los Angeles. Ms True had asked Mr Conforti if he was interested in requesting the return to Italy of a painting stolen from the Galleria Corsini in Rome and which had been offered to the Getty. Mr Conforti chose not to pursue the case and the work turned out to be fake.

The second meeting with Ms True took place in Italy in 1998. Ms True had expressed interest in establishing an international agreement whereby countries rich in archaeological heritage like Italy would lend objects on long-term loan to international museums like the Getty.

Mr Conforti also described a proposal for an amnesty which he had made to the Italian government whereby all private collectors could declare their illicitly held antiquities and be allowed to keep them. This was never pursued.

Salvatore Morando, a sergeant with the Carabinieri then took the stand. His evidence concerned a terracotta group of Silenus which he says came from Cerveteri, an Etruscan site near Rome. It was later acquired by the Getty Museum as part of the Fleischmann Collection.

Two photographs produced as evidence showed fragments of the Silenus group in front of the house of tomb robber Roberto Cilli’s father. The photographs were seized at dealer Giacomo Medici’s Freeport warehouse in Geneva in 2004. (Mr Medici was later convicted in Italy of selling looted antiquities and was sentenced to ten years. He remains free on appeal.) The next hearing is on 29 March.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The Marion True trial: in the courtroom'