ROME — An American antiquities dealer accused of helping to channel priceless artifacts illegally to the J. Paul Getty Museum appeared for the first time at his trial in a Rome courtroom Friday and said he was being made a scapegoat.
Robert E. Hecht Jr., 87, was dismissive of the court and confident of prevailing in the trial, in which his co-defendant is Marion True, former antiquities curator at the Getty.
"They hit me in order to hit a system," Hecht told reporters after Friday's hearing.
To make his point, Hecht said that he was accused of attempting to peddle a bronze statue that was stolen from a Rome museum, but that he had purchased it years earlier from Sotheby's auction house. "So why don't they go after Sotheby's?"
Hecht, who did not testify Friday, sat at the defendant's table in a dapper gray suit. Occasionally, he cocked his left ear toward the judge to listen more closely as the proceedings dragged on.
Lead prosecutor Paolo Ferri questioned Maurizio Pellegrini, an archeological consultant to a regional ministry who has been the prosecution's chief witness. It was the third session taken up with Pellegrini's testimony, which has examined thousands of photographs of antiquities and other items seized in raids at Hecht's home in Paris and at a Swiss warehouse owned by dealer Giacomo Medici.
Medici, who is not related to the famous Renaissance dynasty of art patrons, was convicted last year of illegal trafficking in antiquities as part of the same case. Hecht is accused of being Medici's partner and middleman.
Ferri showed the court a document from the Getty in which "REH" described a small 5th century BC statue as having come from Cerveteri, an area near Rome rich in Etruscan artifacts that is known as one of the most heavily looted sites in Italy. REH is Hecht, Pellegrini testified, and knowing that an item came from Cerveteri demonstrated complicity with grave-robbers and smugglers.
After Friday's session, Hecht's Italian attorney, Alessandro Vannucci, said his client decided to appear in court to dispute the "false things said of him."
In Italian trials, defendants are not required to be present. True attended one hearing last year.
"The real trial here should be of Italy, which, in total indifference, has allowed for dozens, hundreds of years, its territory to be preyed upon," Vannucci said.
Outside the trial, Hecht was asked his opinion of the court. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do," he quipped to reporters.
And when questioned about the acquisition policies of American museums, Hecht switched to an Italian dialect: "\o7Non saccio niente\f7!" -- I know nothing!