Further documents link key defendants in Marion True trial

Hearings drag on into fifth year



The trial of former Getty Museum curator, Marion True, has been in session again, with the archaeologist Daniela Rizzo called as a prosecution witness relating to documents seized in 2006 from the collector and occasional dealer, Edoardo Almagià; these were presented by Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri on 30 December 2008.

Among these are letters written by the dealer Robert Hecht to Marion True, which mention works the prosecution are trying to identify. One is a piece that Mr Hecht says was discovered a few metres from your “dying youth”, identified by Ms Rizzo as a fifth-century bronze figure with brass inlay purchased by the Getty Museum in 1986 (Mr Hecht, who is present in the courtroom, maintains that he does not know it).

There was also some discussion of an Apulian wine jar by the Gravina Painter purchased by the Getty through Fritz Burki in 1986 and included in the list of charges. The Almagià documents reveal his relationship with major New York collectors: he sold antiquities destined ultimately for the Getty Museum to Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman, and to Leon Levy and Shelby White, donors to the Metropolitan Museum. In another letter, Stephen Smithers of Indiana State University asked Mr Almagià if he would give an opinion on his collection of Etruscan art, and provided information regarding the Fleischmans. Among other things, there was mention of the four antefixes sold by Mr Almagià to the Fleischmans, which the scholar Richard De Puma allegedly saw in spring 1997 at the home of Barbara Fleischman, after most of the Fleischman collection had been sold to the Getty the year before. The court was shown sales records, invoices, etc. relating to Mr Almagià.

The prosecution repeated a question it has asked previously: if the Fleischmans sold their collection of antiquities to the Getty because of financial problems (in 1992, they sold eight important pieces for $5.5m and the remainder in 1996, some of the former restituted by the museum to Italy a year ago) why then did they continue to purchase from Mr Almagià, as shown by these documents? An invoice dated 16 February 1993 records that two Etruscan pythoi, one with geometric motifs and one with Ulysses blinding Polyphemus, and four Etruscan plates with herons, were sold by Mr Almagià to the Fleischmans for $40,000.

Finally, Ms Rizzo was questioned over the antiquities included in the charges against Mr Hecht, starting with the material seized in Paris—complete objects, fragments and photos of finds. Almost all the photos are identical to photos seized from the convicted antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici in the Free Port of Geneva. Many pieces are shown to have been sent to Sotheby’s in London by Medici’s Swiss company Editions Services before being returned to the Free Port of Geneva. (Giacomo Medici has already been found guilty in the court of first instance and an appeal is now underway.)

Various photographs showed finds in Fritz Burki’s restoration laboratory. Some pieces were passed over briefly by the prosecution as they have already been dealt with in charges against Ms True, but the photos of the three frescoed walls of a Roman villa in the Bay of Naples, taken at various stages of their restoration, provide a new, clear link between the three parties: Hecht, Medici and Burki. The next hearings should be on 20 and 27 February.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Further documents link key defendants'