The Marion True trial: troubles in the courtroom

The hearings heated up when one of the defence lawyers threatened to abandon the trial if the prosecution continued its aggressive stance



The latest hearing in the trial of former Getty antiquities curator Marion True and the Paris-based, US dealer Robert Hecht, both charged with conspiring to receive antiquities which had been illegally excavated and exported from Italy, took place in Rome on 1 and 8 June. The hearings were the most heated to date with one of the defence lawyers, Francesco Isolabella, threatening to abandon his clients if the prosecution continued its aggressive, and according to Mr Isolabella, misguided line of questioning. A short recess with the presiding magistrate restored order.

Both hearings were devoted to the testimony of prosecution witness Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist who monitors the looting of Etruscan sites. The subject of both hearings related to the material, including photographs of antiquities, seized by Italian police from the Swiss warehouse of Giacomo Medici who was found guilty in 2004 of selling looted antiquities and remains free pending appeal.

The court heard how a great number of antiquities which passed through Medici’s hands ended up in prominent US ­collections: in particular those assembled by Nelson Bunker and William Herbert Hunt, Leon Levy and Shelby White, Maurice Tempelsman, and Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (acquired by the Getty in 1996).

The prosecution alleges that, working with a number of dealers including Robert Hecht, Robin Symes, and others, Medici effectively “laundered” the antiquities that passed through his hands by placing them in prominent US private collections. For example, the antiquities belonging to Nelson Bunker and William Herbert Hunt were sold at Sotheby’s New York in June 1990. Giacomo Medici acquired five objects at the auction. Another artefact purchased by Medici at the same auction was then sold, on the same day and for the same price, to the Fleischmans. The Getty again paid the same price for the object three years later. The prosecution asked why there was no standard mark up. The next hearing is scheduled for 4 July.

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