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Getty to Return Artworks to Italy

In a breakthrough deal, the museum would turn over some allegedly looted antiquities. Rome is to lend pieces of comparable quality.

June 22, 2006|Tracy Wilkinson, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writers

"The second part of the agreement, which we will not hear the details of until later, is going to be the most intriguing part of the deal," Holo added. "What the Getty has to offer is a depth of expertise in conservation, education and research, and that's what makes all of this sing -- and maybe makes this sing a little more sweetly" than the deal between Italy and the Metropolitan.

The agreement marked a sharp turnaround in the talks. Negotiations had ended Tuesday, their second day, on what appeared to be a negative note. No agreement was announced, and the Italian side reiterated its insistence that all disputed items be returned.

Talks resumed Wednesday, but on a more technical level with smaller teams involved, and the Italians indicated it could be months before an agreement was reached.

But the smaller meetings seemed to allow for better give-and-take and for overcoming key differences, sources said. And Fiorilli's absence apparently removed an obstacle and eased the way to agreement.

The Italians had been especially taken aback by recent reports in the Los Angeles Times that indicated the Getty had identified 350 Roman, Etruscan and Greek objects of questionable provenance. Another report in The Times said the Getty's board had authorized the return of 21 items.

Both reports made several members of the Italian delegation, including Fiorilli, skeptical about the Getty representatives' motives and agendas, sources said. In the meeting Wednesday, which lasted about six hours, Getty representatives were apparently able to allay some of those fears.

For the Getty, resolving the dispute has been urgent and tricky, in part because of the large number of items Italy has claimed and also because of the criminal prosecution of the museum's former antiquities curator, Marion True.

True is standing trial on charges of conspiring to acquire illegally excavated works of ancient art. She has pleaded not guilty but last year was forced to step down from her job on accusations of violating the Getty's conflict-of-interest rules.

It is unclear what impact the deal might have on the True case. Officially, the two matters are separate. However, before leaving Italy on Wednesday morning, the Getty's lead negotiator, attorney Ronald Olson, met with the lead prosecutor in True's case.

Olson, reached shortly after his return to Los Angeles on Wednesday night, said the 45-minute meeting was a "courtesy call." The prosecutor requested additional Getty documentation related to the case, and Olson agreed to consider the request but gave no commitment, Olson said.

A source familiar with the discussion gave a different account, saying Olson had agreed to provide documents involving items in the museum's collection, many of which the Italians accuse True of acquiring illegally.

The documents, which could include photos from the Getty's files showing antiquities in their pre-restored, presumably recently looted state, might increase pressure on True to confess, the source said.

The prosecutor in the case, Paolo Ferri, has previously signaled his willingness to recommend a suspended sentence for True if she confesses or cooperates with the prosecution.

True's Los Angeles attorney, Harry Stang, initially said he was unaware of conversations between Olson and Ferri. In a later interview, he said the account provided by the source was misleading.

Stang praised the "meaningful dialogue" between Italy and the Getty. "A decision to have such dialogue, or to transfer objects, does not reflect a judgment that there is any culpability on the part of Dr. True," he said.

"There is no evidence that Dr. True participated in a conspiracy to obtain looted or stolen objects, or that she failed to comply with the acquisition policies adopted by the Getty board of trustees. Dr. True should be exonerated," Stang said.

A hearing in True's trial, now nearly a year old, was scheduled for Wednesday but canceled because of a lawyers strike. Her Italian attorney, Francesca Coppi, appeared at court anyway. Speaking before Wednesday's agreement was announced, Coppi said that if the Getty would return the Aphrodite to Italy, criminal pressure on True would be eased.

The Aphrodite "was the first item we asked the Getty to return," she said.

*

Wilkinson reported from Rome and Felch and Frammolino from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds in Los Angeles and Livia Borghese of The Times' Rome Bureau contributed to this report.

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