Common section




IN THE NEXT PART of the investigation, Ferri relied initially on what are known in English as “letters rogatory.” These are, essentially, requests for help in investigations from the judicial authority in one country to the judicial authority in another country. They are cumbersome and unwieldy. A public prosecutor like Ferri will prepare the paperwork, showing the legal grounds and a prima facie case for the investigation, which is passed from the Italian Ministry of Justice to the ministry of justice in France or Britain or the United States. The ministry in the receiving country then passes on the written request to whatever judicial office or police force the proposed investigation might concern. Any reply goes via the same route in reverse. Such a rigmarole can and does take months. It is not unknown for answers to be more than a year in coming back. Often, there is no reply at all. It was a matter of considerable regret, on Ferri’s part, that while he secured prompt and willing cooperation from the French, slower but still willing cooperation from the Swiss and Germans, and grudging cooperation from the Americans, the British and the Danes were totally unhelpful.

Fortunately, the man whom Conforti and Ferri were interested in above all others, Robert Hecht, now lived in Paris and the French police were more cooperative than most. Following the arrival of the material from Geneva in Rome at the end of June 2000, Ferri immediately issued a letter rogatory for a raid on Hecht’s apartment in the Boulevard Latour Maubourg, in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris, near the Invalides and Napoleon’s tomb. Even though the French were totally cooperative, permission for the raid didn’t come through for some months. The raid was finally scheduled for February 16, 2001.

Two of Conforti’s most experienced men and four French police officers took part. Hecht, they knew, had an apartment in New York. The Americans had already denied them permission to raid that address because, the Americans said, the information the Italians had about him was “not recent.” The fact that the Swiss had held on to the documents for so long was already taking its toll. Furthermore, technically the Paris apartment was in the name of Hecht’s wife—in other words, it wasn’t his. Fortunately for the Italians, the French were not as persnickety as the Americans. “In Paris, we had zero difficulty,” says Conforti.

Robert Hecht’s family founded the Hecht chain of department stores and he grew up in Baltimore. Born in 1919, he attended Haverford College, outside Philadelphia. He learned Latin in high school, started Greek at college, and had begun graduate work in archaeology when he was called up in World War II. After serving in the navy, he spent a year at Zurich University working on a Ph.D., then won a two-year fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. In 1950, he turned from the academic life to dealing art and made his first sale, an Apulian vase of the fourth century BC, which he sold to the Metropolitan in New York. Balding, with a fringe of white hair, Hecht walks with a limp now, though he has never allowed an artificial hip to stop him from playing tennis, one of his passions. The others—besides antiquities—are his two daughters, claret, and backgammon. He is an inveterate gambler.

The Paris apartment was on the second floor. The senior French officer knocked on the door. Hecht’s wife, Elisabeth, opened it. At first she tried to resist the incoming policemen. She said Hecht wasn’t there and, moreover, that he did not live there, and hadn’t for fifteen years. The police—both French and Italian—were expecting this (it was a familiar delaying tactic) and presented her with a simple ultimatum: Either she could let them in willingly, in which case they promised not to enter her own bedroom; or they could do it the hard way, break down the door if she barred them, when they would go through the entire apartment.

She let them in.

Inside, it was “[n]ot luxurious, but elegant,” says one of the men who was there. A spacious hallway featured an impressive chandelier, and the apartment had two bedrooms. The furniture was antique rather than modern. There was a study on the left, but Elisabeth led them to one of the bedrooms, which, she indicated, was Hecht’s. The two Carabinieri in the raiding party had often enjoyed a joke that in the movies, police searching an apartment always look first under the bed. In real life, no one ever hides anything under the bed. Well, on this occasion—at the very moment they entered the bedroom, they could see some white plastic shopping bags wedged under the bed. They placed them on top of the covers, and reached inside. The first things they took out were some ancient vases—Attic, Apulian, Corinthian—full of earth. Then they found a bronze helmet, and a bronze belt, both dusted in soil. Next they came across a number of vase fragments, in the same dirty condition.

The rest of the discoveries that day were mixed. There were several folders with photographs packed inside. One contained thirteen Polaroids, all marked with the same serial number. These showed an oinochoe with a wild boar, the base of a large vase, possibly Apulian, a bronze mirror with two warriors, a winged figure—and one showed a sculpture-antefix with two horses’ heads. Polaroids of an identical object were found among Medici’s documents in Geneva (which by now, of course, were in Rome).

Another file had fifteen color photographs showing female busts, “very dirty with earth,” according to the official report on the raid. They were ready to be cleaned and restored. Then there were photographs of the twenty red-figure Attic plates, the same as had been found in the safe at Geneva, and exactly the same set of photographs as Medici had, including the one with the tag on it that said “21 pieces 2,000.”m These were in a folder with a copy of the letter that Hecht had sent to the Getty in which he informed the museum that he had the plates on consignment from Medici. A final folder of photographs showed twenty-three objects, each of which had been found in Medici’s photograph albums seized in Geneva.

Among the letters was one dated April 18, 1991, from Felicity Nicholson, director of Sotheby’s Antiquities Department, to Editions Services at 7 Avenue Krieg, Geneva. It included this paragraph: “We also have an Attic black-figure Panathenaic Amphora which Bob Hecht asked should be put in your name. This we intend to include in our July sale.” Sotheby’s, or at least Felicity Nicholson, was perfectly aware of the Medici-Hecht cordata.

In a sense, however, these photographs and letters, though very useful as corroboration, only confirmed what Ferri and Pellegrini already knew, that Medici was responsible for bringing illicit material out of Italy and that Hecht was the main conduit between him and the world’s collectors and the great museums. And that members of the cordata traded antiquities in each other’s name. In contrast, the other documentation found in Hecht’s Paris apartment was much more interesting for the fresh light it threw on the world inhabited by him and Medici.

The most dismaying was a series of letters that General Conforti, writing in his capacity as head of the Carabinieri Art Squad, had sent to William Luers, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, about the Morgantina silver.n In his letter, dated November 15, 1996, Conforti referred to some letters rogatory that were being prepared in relation to the silver that, he said, had been “unlawfully excavated,” but he raised the possibility that the Met might want to return the treasure voluntarily “with adequate publicity.” Ashton Hawkins, executive vice president and counsel to the trustees, replied, saying that the museum “remained convinced of the facts as they were given at the time of the purchase.” Hawkins was polite but firm, and Conforti was rebuffed. One is prompted to ask why Hecht had been sent this correspondence. What interest did Hecht have in the Morgantina silver? According to the museum’s official account, the silver pieces came from Turkey and were acquired legally, in Switzerland. What role had Hecht played in the museum’s acquisitions of them? The suggestion that arises from this scenario, that the Metropolitan Museum in New York is in a closer, cozier relationship with the antiquities underworld than it is with the legitimate police authorities, is disappointing, to say the least.

The nature of Hecht’s close relations with museums—and theirs with him—was further reinforced by two other documents found in Boulevard Latour Maubourg. These were notices, sent to two museums and signed by Conforti, that announced that the Carabinieri was putting on its Web site 500 images of archaeological objects that had been stolen or illegally excavated in Lazio, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily; in other words, these objects had been looted and Conforti was asking the museum directors to look out for them. What did the directors do? They sent the information to Hecht. Why? Could it be they were warning him? Once again, it seems that some of the world’s museums are on more intimate terms with the sources of illicit antiquities than they are with the legitimate police authorities. One of the museums was the archaeological museum in Geneva, the other had its name obscured with white-out. One of the Carabinieri lifted the page up to the light. Held in that way, the name of the second museum was clearly visible: the Archaeological Museum in Munich (the Antikensammlung). Why did the museum want its name covered up?

There was one other document of consequence that the Carabinieri came across that February day in Paris. Ever since the discovery of Pasquale Camera’s organigram in 1995, the Italian authorities had realized that Hecht was the main figure, the top man at the head of the cordate that smuggled material out of Italy. But, more than that, during the subsequent investigations, discussed in the previous chapter, they had picked up from various sources the fact that many of the lesser figures were frightened of Hecht and intimidated by him. The main reason for this, as Ferri was told, was that Hecht had let it be known—among those he dealt with regularly—that he was writing a book about the antiquities underworld. Although Hecht never actually said so (he was too clever), the implication of this was that anyone who stepped out of line, anyone who crossed him, anyone who tried to bypass him, anyone who tried to usurp his role, anyone who tried to poach his contacts would be named in the book and exposed. It was never made clear whether Hecht would publish the book in his lifetime or, as some sources appeared to have been told, after his death, to provide funds for his wife to live on. Each time Ferri, Pellegrini, or any of Conforti’s men heard about this “book” or “memoir,” the more intrigued they became. By the time they obtained permission to raid Hecht’s flat, on that February day in 2001, it was the main thing they were looking for.

Naturally, the discovery of the letters and Polaroids at Boulevard Latour Maubourg provoked much discussion among the raiding party, especially the Italians. Besides discussing the decoration on the vases that had been found, they naturally referred to other, related documentation found in Geneva that fitted with what they were uncovering in Paris. At this point, however, one of Conforti’s men noticed Elisabeth Hecht listening in on what they were saying. This was odd because when they had entered the hallway to the apartment, at the beginning of the raid, she had spoken French to the French policemen and, in response to a direct question, had denied being able to speak Italian. Neither of the Carabinieri gave it a thought to begin with. But then one of them recalled that among Hecht’s correspondence was a letter to his wife at Via di Villa Pepoli—she had lived in Italy. And so he gave her a fresh ultimatum. Either he and his colleague would step away and discuss their next moves out of earshot, or they could all speak Italian.

Mrs. Hecht—wrong-footed—now admitted that she understood Italian.

Eager to press their psychological advantage, Conforti’s men immediately said they were less interested in dirty antiquities than in the memoir that they had heard on the underworld grapevine that Hecht was writing.

Elisabeth Hecht stiffened but said that she knew of no memoir. Her slight hesitation was picked up on by Conforti’s men.

The French policeman leading the raid also noticed. “Right,” he said, adopting the Italians’ tactics, “either you lead us straight to the memoir, or we turn over the whole apartment.” He made it clear that there would be serious disruption to Mrs. Hecht’s routine and that her own bedroom would no longer be off-limits.

Without speaking, she turned on her heel and led them into the study. And there, in the middle of the room, was a desk, and in the middle of the desk, just sitting there, for all to see, was a plain, buff-colored folder. Inside, when they opened it, was a manuscript, its pages handwritten on lined legal-size paper, on plain paper, and on graph paper. The pages were covered in rows of untidy handwriting that, upon closer examination, the Carabinieri could see was in English. There and then they couldn’t understand it, but flipping through the pages, they saw a number of names, abbreviations, and initials they recognized—Vulci, Montalto di Castro, R. Symes, Euphr., “G.M.”

This was it.

The rumors had been true, the gossip on the grapevine had been accurate, Savoca and Guarini had been telling the truth. Hecht had written a memoir and now—at last, at long last—they had it.

The memoir was seized but, of course, it was seized on the authority of the French police. It would be some time before the Italians could get their hands on it. Meanwhile, realizing how serious the raid was turning out to be, from her husband’s point of view, Elisabeth Hecht now called him, in New York. She spoke to him, and he said he would leave for Paris immediately. He was, he said, anxious to speak to the law-enforcement authorities.


A day or so later, while the Carabinieri were still in Paris, seeing to the paperwork necessary if the objects and documentation found in the raid were to be transferred to Italy, Hecht got in touch. He had flown in from New York, he said, and was anxious to see the Carabinieri, not the French police. He asked for a meeting.

Ferri authorized a brief meeting, and one of his men met with Hecht the following day. Hecht chose the meeting place, in front of Notre Dame, the great cathedral of Paris, on the Ile de la Cité. Hecht said he would be there, at four o’clock in the afternoon, “on the left-hand corner as you look at the church.”

At four o’clock it was raining hard. But Hecht was on time, wearing a fawn coat, but with no hat and no umbrella. The lieutenant almost felt sorry for him. Hecht led the way to a nearby café, where the meeting lasted barely twenty minutes. Hecht wanted to know what had happened during the raid, why he had been targeted, what they thought they had found. The lieutenant was under strict instructions from Ferri to give nothing away. All he did say was to advise Hecht to “get a lawyer.”

It may have been a short meeting and next to nothing may have been said, but it had been important, Ferri felt. Hecht had asked for the rendezvous, and during it he had asked all the questions. Despite everything that had happened, it appeared that he had not been expecting the raid, and now—and for the first time, so far as Hecht was concerned—the boot was on the other foot. Hecht wasn’t frightened exactly, but he was certainly nervous. That hadn’t happened before.


Ferri planned an interrogation of Hecht, but before that, he needed to get his hands on the memoir in Italian. Ferri speaks some English but not enough to cope easily with a long, handwritten document in a scrawl that isn’t always easy to decipher even for a native English speaker.

The French provided the memoir quickly enough, but when they did, for evidential reasons (that is, to prevent pages from being deleted or new ones added), when the document arrived in Rome it was held together by a special binder—a hole had been pierced through each page and they had been laced together with twine—and the pages were numbered. This was all reasonable, except for the fact that the Italians quickly found that the pages were not in the right order—they didn’t all read on from one page to the next. Whatever had happened after the raid in Paris, the pages had been jumbled. Therefore they had to be photocopied and rearranged in their proper sequential order, and only then translated. All of which took time.

But eventually it was done, and at last Ferri and the others could read what Hecht had written.

Written in English, the memoir was eighty-eight pages long and appeared to have been compiled over several months and years. There are one or two idiosyncracies in the text—for example, instead of “with,” Hecht usually writes “c” or “067 ,” shorthand for the Italian (or Latin) con; “C.C.” is the common Italian abbreviation for Carabinieri; “Æ” is silver; “Au” is gold, and so on. There are many references to food and drink, tennis and his family, but none at all to his gambling. The tone is self-confident, even self-righteous throughout, cocky in places. The narrative, which ranges from the 1950s to 2001, is divided into eight sections. It begins with the early years—the 1950s and the 1960s—in Italy, Turkey, and Greece. It gives—perhaps significantly, and certainly most interestingly—two versions of the Euphronios krater affair. There is a section devoted to the acquisition by the Getty of the Euphronios-Onesimos kylix, followed by a more theoretical section in which Hecht argues that his activities have benefited archaeology and in which he defends himself against the charge that he and his kind have desecrated the archaeological heritage of several civilizations.

In an early section, referring to 1961, he describes returning to his Rome apartment after a trip to Sicily with a miniature altar, or arula, that he had bought in Gela, a city founded by the Greeks in the eighth century BC. The very next morning he was raided by the Carabinieri, but they didn’t find the arula. Instead, he showed them some cheap archaeological items he kept in the apartment for just this sort of occasion, and to deflect suspicion.

At that time, the Carabinieri were carrying out one of their irregular sweeps on the antiquities trade and, by chance, stumbled on the Swiss dealer, Herbert Cahn, who was in Rome on a visit. Interviewed at Carabinieri headquarters, one of the people he admitted knowing in the Italian capital was Robert Hecht, but Cahn said that he did no business with the American expatriate because he was “a competitor.” However, he did name two Roman dealers he had bought from over the previous few years—Renzi and Pennacchi.

When I was told about this I couldn’t believe it. I called up Cahn and asked him if this was true. He replied, “Ja. Ich habe es aber minimal gehalten.” (Yes, but I kept it at a minimum.) Cahn did not realize or want to realize that he was dealing in contraband and that in this activity it is ignoble to inform against your collaborators.

This was an interesting sighting of the word “contraband.”

That wasn’t all. Cahn was carrying his address book on him and the Carabinieri seized it. In addition to the names and numbers of his contacts, the address book included a record of what he had bought and from whom.

These notes included a letter from Mr. Sabatini, a school teacher in Canino (near the site of Vulci—the biggest source of fine Greek pottery) agreeing to Cahn’s offer for two vases, one of which was a Rhodian oinochoe and saying that he awaited Cahn’s visit.

Then, without warning, Hecht completely changes the subject—to George Ortiz, a man he had dealt with over the past forty years. After first describing Ortiz’s background, he discusses his collecting, how he developed a passion for Greek art especially, starting with visits to museums, then using dealers on both sides of the Atlantic, buying mainly bronzes, usually of very good quality. But then, after familiarizing himself with the main dealers in Rome and Athens, Ortiz soon

made contacts with grave diggers and traffickers in the countryside, especially in Southern Etruria.... George became well known among the villagers and in their investigations the Carabinieri found correspondence and evidence of payments by George in houses they searched. They even found evidence of checks on Swiss Credit Bank which he had given to a gentleman in Montepulciano.

In the autumn of 1961, charges were brought against the Rome dealers Renzi and Pennacchi, against Cahn, Ortiz, and Hecht, who were accused of receiving stolen property. All were acquitted. On appeal, all were found guilty. Finally, in 1976 (yes, fifteen years later), Cahn and Ortiz were found guilty and given brief suspended sentences, while Hecht was acquitted.

The memoir, which was to become of considerable importance in the subsequent criminal trials, is full of interesting tidbits about the history of tomb-robbing. For instance, Hecht records how in 1963, a Swiss dealer went so far as to equip the looters in Tarquinia (well known for its painted tombs) with electric saws, with which they could more easily strip frescoes from the walls of tombs and villas. Ironically, when the police discovered what was happening, they decided that only Americans would risk and finance such flamboyant looting techniques and Hecht’s residence permit was revoked. He was expelled, as a result of which he missed the birth of his daughter.

It is known that Elia Borowsky bought several frescoes from Tarquinia at this time.

In another vignette, Hecht was shown some beautiful silver figures in Pandrossan Street in Athens. The Armenian dealer insisted on cash so Hecht prevailed on a female friend to fly in to Athens from Zurich for a short holiday—provided she brought with her forty one-thousand-dollar bills. That seems to have done the trick for, a few days later, she flew back to Switzerland—with the silver figures. These figures, Hecht says, are now in Copenhagen.1

Beginning in 1963, Hecht was allowed back into Italy, though at first his residence permit was for one month at a time, then three months, and finally, by 1965, it was for a year at a time. He had by now renewed a relationship with one “GZ,” George Zakos, a Greek who had grown up in Istanbul, whom Hecht had known since 1951. After a number of small deals, mainly having to do with coins, the bigger transactions commenced.

One involved the British Museum and began when Zakos produced three silver cups with floral designs and a scene from Iphigenia among the Taurians (an episode from Homer; Tauris is today’s Crimea). Hecht was in London the following weekend, ahead of a visit to Sir John and Lady Beazley at their home in Oxford. Not wanting to traipse the cups all the way to Oxford, Hecht asked Dennis Haynes, the British Museum keeper of antiquities, if he could leave the cups with him for safe keeping. Hecht’s initial thought had been to sell the cups to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, because a friend of his, Cornelius Vermeule, had just been appointed curator. However, to Hecht’s considerable surprise, Haynes inquired after the price of the cups. Wrong-footed for once, Hecht said he would think about it and, after he returned from his visit to the Beazleys, gave Haynes what he described as a “defensive” price of $90,000. What he meant by this was that he thought such a figure would be well beyond the British Museum. In fact, Haynes didn’t turn a hair and Hecht was paid by the end of the month. In this way, Hecht identifies loot in the BM.

There are several episodes such as this one. Hecht is “brought” material, which he describes in detail, though the routes out of Italy, Greece, or Turkey are only rarely specified.

And so, vignette by vignette, the years elapse in Hecht’s narrative, before Medici (“GM”) is introduced. It was early 1967 and Hecht was out of Italy, when his wife told him on the phone that a middle-man called Franco Luzzi (mentioned in the organigram) had been offered a good-quality kylix but his suppliers, the tombaroli, wanted what was then a high price. His appetite whetted, Hecht returned quickly to Rome and met with Luzzi near the Campidoglio [Rome’s capital, today the seat of the municipality]. Hecht is usually very coy in his memoir about these meetings, and he makes it clear that he went to considerable lengths to avoid being seen with such middlemen by anyone in authority. At the rendezvous, he had Luzzi make a pencil drawing of the kylix, which showed that on each outside surface there was an owl between olive branches. In the central round part, the tondo, there was a youth with a vase. Hecht must have liked what he saw for he told Luzzi to buy the cup, whatever it took. Luzzi complained that the tombaroli were asking 1,800,000 lire (then equivalent to $3,000). Hecht said that he would guarantee Luzzi at least 2,500,000 lire, ensuring a tidy profit. However, when Luzzi went back to his tombaroli suppliers they countered by saying that Medici had already told them he would beat any offer Luzzi made. And in fact, on that occasion, Medici bought the kylix and sold it on to the man he then mainly supplied. According to Hecht, this was Eli Borowsky.

But Hecht wouldn’t be beaten. Medici had bought the kylix for 1,500,000 and sold it to Borowsky for only a hundred thousand lire more. So Hecht told Luzzi to go back to “GM” and offer him 2,000,000 lire. Although these sums are paltry by today’s standards, at that time such differences in price were significant and as a result of Luzzi’s improved offer, Medici got back the kylix from Borowsky and sold it to Hecht.

So, in the evening on the Lungotevere [the boulevard that runs alongside the River Tiber in Rome], in front of the [old] Palace of Justice, in my car, parked behind theirs, Luzzi and GM showed me the cup and I asked GM if he would be content with 2.2 [million lire]. He jumped with joy and said “yes” . . . I gave Luzzi a commission of 800,000 lire, so both were happy. Later, I sold this to Dr. Hirk, a Basel chemist, for 60,000 Swiss Francs (= ca. 8,500,000 lire).

Hecht was obviously a bit of a show-off, who liked people to know how clever he was and how readily he could read character. He certainly seems to have understood Medici very well, right from the beginning. In a passage which, as the judge noted in Medici’s trial, was confirmed by other tombaroli, Hecht wrote:

Up to this time GM (in his 20’s) had been the purveyor to a pharmacist in Rome. GM’s father and mother had a stand at the open air market at Piazza Borghese and sold minor objects from excavations to tourists. GM was more ambitious and having bought a second hand Fiat 500 for $400, rose early each morning and toured the villages of Etruria visiting all the clandestine diggers. Each evening he returned with his booty to the pharmacist, who gave him in cash a small profit, but bought everything. The sale of the kylix was an eye opener for GM. He saw that quality had a high premium.

This proved to be an understatement. As we shall see, this episode had pivotal consequences for Medici’s career. From now on the objects he provided to Hecht began to rise markedly in value. Moreover, in Hecht’s text the prices of their deals are from now on recorded in dollars, not lire. The sums involved rise over the years from $1,600, to $6,000, to $63,000. In each case, Hecht is careful to tell us what happened to these objects, which collectors or museum they ended up with and, of course, what handsome profits he made. For example, a set of Etruscan silver chariot fixtures, which he says he bought from Medici for $63,000, he sold on to Mogens Giddesen at the Copenhagen Museum for $240,000.

“G.M. soon became a faithful purveyor,” he records, and indeed the list of objects Medici provided Hecht with is impressive. But of course, this background, though very vivid, is also very incriminating. And then, without any preamble or any other sort of warning or change of pace, halfway down page fourteen of this section of the memoir, Hecht broaches the subject of the infamous Euphronios krater.

In preparation for that, however, we need to consider one other matter.

In 1993, just before the investigations that are the subject of this book began, Thomas Hoving published his own memoirs. Since he had left the Met, he had become a journalist, among other things editor-in-chief of the magazine Connoisseur (now defunct), and had written at least one art book and a novel. His 1993 memoirs were entitled Making the Mummies Dance, a reference to his brand of showmanship when he was director of the Metropolitan, and chapter 17 was titled, characteristically, “The Hot Pot.” It began typically enough. “I have fallen in love more often with works of art than with women,” and it concerned the Met’s acquisition of the Euphronios krater. This version differed in some interesting ways from the earlier version, as given here in the Prologue.

His most important revelations this time were:

• He had first been alerted to the existence of the vase by a phone call from Hecht’s wife, directly to him, in September 1971; she said that her husband had “just” been consigned “a startling piece”;

• During subsequent negotiations Hecht constantly referred to the “dollar situation,” because that currency was weakening progressively at that time against the Swiss franc;

• Hecht was aware that the Metropolitan Museum was considering selling its coin collection and offered a swap;

• In a preliminary letter to the museum, Hecht said that the price of the krater would be comparable to that for an impressionist painting (the Met had just paid more than $1 million for a painting by Monet);

• The first photographs of the krater showed it recomposed but with the joins visible.

Hoving also said that in July 1976, he had received an unsolicited letter from Muriel Silberstein, in Chicago, in which she claimed that she had met Dikran Sarrafian in Beirut in 1964, when he had shown her some cylinder seals and a box containing shards of an ancient Greek vase by the artist Euphronios. Hoving never explained why it had taken her so long to come forward, but she stuck to her story, which she had independently told to several others.

For Hoving this didn’t clear up the matter—he was too experienced and canny for that. But, putting all he knew alongside Mrs. Silberstein’s information, Hoving in his 1993 memoirs came up with a new theory—that there were two kraters and one cup, all by Euphronios and all on the market in the early 1970s. The second krater, Hoving said, was the fragmentary one owned subsequently by the Hunt brothers, sold in their sale in 1990 and acquired by Leon Levy and Shelby White.o Both this second krater and the kylix, Hoving said, were acquired by the Hunts from Bruce McNall. Again according to Hoving’s new theory, the whole business had begun when Hecht had sold to Munich’s Antikensammlung in 1970 (actually 1968) a fragmentary Euphronios krater (a third one) for $250,000. Where this came from Hoving didn’t say, but he added that “it seems likely” that Hecht, in concluding this deal, recalled Sarrafian’s fragmentary krater, which he claimed to have seen in Beirut in 1965, and persuaded him to sell. And it was this that Hecht originally intended to offer to the Met.

“Then a miracle took place.” An Etruscan tomb near San Antonio di Cerveteri was found by tomb robbers and the complete krater was discovered in December 1971. According to Hoving, Hecht simply switched the two kraters, in the sense that he attached the Sarrafian provenance to the Cerveteri krater. This, Hoving says, would explain the various mix-ups: in the dates, the mix-up over whether Sarrafian’s krater was complete or not, the mix-up over when the Sarrafian’s krater left Lebanon, the mix-up in regard to the chronology of the invoices, the mix-up over when the krater reached Bürki for restoration. It would explain what Mrs. Silberstein saw in Beirut in 1964 and why Sarrafian did not receive all the monies he should have.2

So much for Hoving’s updated account. We return to Hecht’s memoir. The judge at Medici’s trial, in announcing his verdict, compared this “true story” with Hecht’s later “sweetened” version (see below, this chapter). Both accounts give key insights into the operating methods of these antiquities dealers.

GM was loyal and one morning in December 1971 he appeared at our apartment in Villa Pepoli shortly after breakfast with Polaroids of a krater signed by Euphronios. I could not believe my eyes. B. L. [Hecht’s wife] exclaimed “Can this be true?” Within an hour we flew to Milan, had a vinous lunch at the Colline Pistoiesi [Cuisine from Pistoia] and took the train to Lugano where GM had the krater in a safe deposit box. The negotiations did not take long and we agreed on 1,500,000 Swiss Francs on the instalment plan. That same evening I went on to Zurich, left the krater with Fritz Bürki, paid GM all the liquid cash I had at the time ($40,000) and went back to Rome to take the family to Courmayeur for a ski vacation. And a happy vacation it was.

I owned in partnership with GZ a lifesize bronze eagle with which I had had no success, either with Fort Worth, L. A. County Museum, or the Metropolitan. To pay for [the] Euphronios I got GZ’s permission to sell it to Robin Symes for $75,000 (we had paid $40,000). So, here was some more $ for GM. I had thought of giving the krater to Sotheby’s but Felicity Nicholson’s $200,000 estimate was a bit low. M Gyp [?] tried to get a Danish shipowner to buy it for the Glyptotek in Copenhagen but without success.

I had written a letter to DvB mentioning a r/f krater like the one in ARV page—[Attic Red-Figure Vase Painters, by J. D. Beazley] but virtually complete and with an appealing mythological scene. Shortly thereafter DvB replied that both his and his director’s appetites were whetted and asked the price.

Hecht told them—cheekily—that the price would be at the same level as an impressionist painting, because the draftsmanship on the vase was the equal of the Monet that the Met had itself just bought, for $1.4 million. Hecht waited for Fritz Bürki to complete the restoration of the vase, which he did but still left the jumble of joins showing in red glue, so that the people at the Met could see what was old and what was new. Then Hecht flew to New York with some good-quality photographs. Von Bothmer, who lived on Center Island, had invited him to stay for part of the weekend. On the Sunday morning, Hecht was picked up by von Bothmer’s car, but on the way to Center Island the driver hit a dog and Hecht was forced to cradle the animal—bleeding and whimpering—as they sought out a vet. The vet told Hecht the dog would live but the delay meant that Hecht, covered in blood, didn’t arrive at von Bothmer’s until well after he had planned.

DvB opened the door in the company of his son Bernard, then about seven years old. DvB: ‘Bernard, ask Mr. Hecht if he knows the name of Herakles’ brother.’ I replied: ‘Bernard, you tell me.’ Bernard: ‘Iplikles.’ I replied: ‘Bernard, you are half right—they were half brothers.’

Von Bothmer was very impressed by the photographs and so everyone relaxed. Hecht played some tennis with the curator’s “beautiful stepdaughter,” they all swam in the family pool and ate dinner. The next morning, the two men were driven into Manhattan together and showed the photographs to Tom Hoving and Ted Rousseau, curator of paintings and Hoving’s deputy. They were no less impressed than von Bothmer and the four men agreed to reconvene in late June, at Fritz Bürki’s in Zurich, to view the vase itself.

Dietrich von Bothmer, Thomas Hoving and Theodore Rousseau all came and looked at the krater in the garden under the sun. Tom Hoving pulled me aside & said that this was the finest work of art offered to the museum since he had become director.... Lunchtime was approaching, so we drove into Zurich to the Rotisserie de la Muette for grilled steaks and a discussion of the krater.

Hoving opened the negotiations suggesting some kind of annuity to be paid over several years. I replied that the price could be negotiated but that I wanted a lump sum and reasonably soon since the dollar was very weak. (At the time the $ had fallen from 4.30 Swiss Francs to 4.05 Swiss Francs.) Then I mentioned the ancient coin collection to be auctioned by Sotheby’s.

Some time before, Hecht had been told by von Bothmer that the museum was intending to sell its collections of ancient coins and that the curators had been conferring with a bank and a particular coin dealer to hold a joint auction.

Hecht suggested at the meeting that the Met might get a better deal on the coins with Sotheby’s, and Hoving quickly made some calls to Peter Wilson, chief executive of the auction house, and flew off immediately to London. Sotheby’s did offer a higher estimate, cheaper terms, and advanced the museum some money.

Rousseau paid a second visit to Bürki’s for another look at the vase, at which time he suggested that the restorer cover over the red joins with black paint. The Met was obviously moving toward a deal and, sure enough, in mid-August, Hoving called Hecht in Rome and offered exactly $1 million for the vase. Hecht accepted.

The following day he traveled to Zurich, where he found that Fritz Bürki had almost completed his restoration, covering over the red joins.

I reserved two first-class seats on the TWA flight, Zurich-to-New York [one first-class ticket then cost $450]. On arrival at JFK [airport] I was met by Mr. Keating, the MMA’s shipping agent and an armed museum guard.... When we arrived at the loading platform at the south end of the museum, my wife Elisabeth and our two daughters were there to meet me. . . . When I showed Hoving the invoice stating that the krater came from Dikran, he laughed and said “I bet he doesn’t exist.”

This narrative, of course, totally contradicts the account originally given by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the krater’s acquisition.

On the following day, Hecht flew to Malaga in Spain for a holiday at Lew Hoad’s tennis camp, and a couple of weeks later von Bothmer got in touch to say that the museum’s trustees had approved the purchase of the vase.

. . . the check for $1000000 was sent September 11 to Zurich. I immediately changed the check into Swiss Francs at the rate of 3.91 Swiss Francs to a dollar. By May 1974 the $ had fallen to 2.40 Swiss Francs and now is worth about 1.30 Swiss Francs.

Note his recollection of the exact date the money was paid and the specific exchange rates, down to two decimal places, that seem to be engraved on his memory.

At this point, Hecht’s memoir mentions the New York Times Magazine article on the krater and the subsequent investigation by Nicholas Gage, referred to in the Prologue of this book. Finally, Hecht discusses the fact that Sir John Pope-Hennessy, then director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and later director of the British Museum, expressed reservations that the krater was a fake. Hecht reports that this was also the view of Robin Symes and his partner Christo Michaelides. The criticism evidently got to him, for a whole page of the memoir is taken up with the plaudits the krater received from other experts.

Until this point, the account has been seamless. The Euphronios story is the culmination of a section of the memoir, fourteen pages long, beginning in 1967, and devoted almost exclusively to Hecht’s dealings with Medici. The New York Times involvement in the story doesn’t occur until page ten of this section and then occupies only a few paragraphs. After this, Hecht then returned to a fuller account of the New York Times and London Observer investigation of the provenance of the krater. This starts on a fresh page, in slightly different pen. (Hecht used several pens, and several inks, for the memoir, including a fountain pen.)

In a fourteen-and-a-half-page section, he recalled Nicholas Gage’s investigation, and the way the Carabinieri pursued him, the prosecution in Italy, his eventual acquittal, and an attempt in 1977 by the Italian authorities to have the New York police put him before a grand jury. He was eventually acquitted there, too, but during his cross-examination before the grand jury, he was characterized as being little more than a “street peddler.” This got to him, and, to the jury’s great amusement, he tells us, he read off an impressive list of institutions to which he had sold material. These institutions included the British Museum, the Louvre, the Glyptothek in Munich, the Glyptotek in Copenhagen, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and museums in Toledo, Cleveland, at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Campbell Soup Museum in New Jersey. With the grand jury’s dismissal of the charges against him, Hecht noted that the “harassment ended.”

His memoir then switches to more historical material. Thirty or so pages later, however, he returns once again to the Euphronios affair. This time there are crucial differences in his account. This section is dedicated solely to the affair and is physically separate, not part of a seamless narrative exploring other deals and other times. Moreover, the paper is not lined but is either plain or graph paper, and the manner of writing is somewhat different. Notably, there are far more abbreviations. It begins in this way, for instance, describing the situation when Tom Hoving first saw the krater in Zurich:

Hvngs spont. react. revealed the sensitive art lover. “Ths s t gtst068 wrk f art offrd t th mus sns I’v bn there!” I replied, “how abt t Bury St. Ed. X?” “As a work of art this is mch fnr.” For 1½ hrs. they inspected th pt. glued together from abt 100 pieces.

As before they went to the Rotisserie de la Muette for lunch and discussed price, where, on this occasion, he says that Hoving told him about the coin auction (in the earlier account, and in Hoving’s own account, it was the other way around and Hecht had mentioned the coins to Hoving). “Hoving wanted to pay some in the fall and some in the coming year.” Then this: 069070 t reduce the price in order t mk early payment poss.” This was changed to read: “I said that I would ask t owner t reduce the price in order t mak early payment poss.”

He goes on: “July & Aug wer spent finding a solution agreeable both t mus and 071the owner.” Later, after flying the krater in its box on the TWA flight, “I was mt at Kennedy by an armed museum guard, Mr.—and Mr. X, the museum’s customs brkr.” As before, when he reached the museum his wife and two daughters were there, B. L., as he called his wife, dressed in a dirndl skirt and his daughters in colorful jeans. “My wife now saw the crat, for t 1st tim & exclaimed, ‘I could almost cry, it’s lk a Rembrandt!’” Afterwards Hecht and his family crossed Fifth Avenue, to the Stanhope Hotel, and had a drink at the pavement café there.

We felt relaxed. Why not? A great museum had just received one of the few finest archaic Greek ptngs surviving and we had steered it there. Mainly we were happy because Dikran was now assured of securing his old age.

He then proceeds to repeat the details of the Sarrafian story, which explained the origins of the krater as having been acquired in London in the 1920s and Sarrafian’s decision to sell before moving abroad. In this account, Sarrafian finally contacted Hecht in early 1971 to say that his agent would be in touch in Zurich in August that year.

“The teleph rang at about 7 A. M. & a voice w/ a typ. ME Fr. accent sd: ‘Iz thees Mr. 072 Edge-te.’” The man came, Hecht showed his passport to prove who he was, then they both went to Fritz Bürki’s to give him the vase to restore. Hecht took the agent to the station and himself caught the evening flight to Rome “and stayed up late c B. L. telling her the Sarpedon story.” He stayed in Rome for a wedding, then again went off to Lew Hoad’s tennis camp in Spain, while his wife and daughters went to America. While his wife was in America, he asked her “t cal DvB & mention that he should prepar for a bombshl.”

The rest of the account is almost word for word what Hecht maintained in 1972, though at the time none of the above was made public.

One of the most arresting features in this part of the memoir is the severe abbreviation of the words. Are they incriminating? Does the truncated nature of so many words suggest perhaps that Hecht had written them before, that he was slightly bored with them so he couldn’t be bothered to write them out in full and was now coming up with an amended version? And do the crossings-out signify slips of the pen that in fact reveal the real truth, as when he uses “I” or “me,” then changes it to “the owner”? Why, in this latest account, can he not remember the name of Mr. Keating, the museum’s broker at Kennedy Airport, yet he can remember what his wife said, on seeing the krater, that it made her want to weep and reminded her of a Rembrandt? Is it likely that if she really did make such a stagey remark, he would have overlooked it in the other account? Isn’t his account of Sarrafian’s agent’s arrival in Zurich—referring to him as “073 Edge-te” equally stagey? In this version, Hecht told his wife to alert von Bothmer to a bombshell. How does this square with the other account, that he sent von Bothmer a letter, and with Hoving’s account, that Hecht’s wife called him? Isn’t the level of incidental detail in this second account much less than in the “Medici version”? There is no mention of a wounded dog, no talk of tennis with von Bothmer’s beautiful stepdaughter, no exchange with von Bothmer’s son about Herakles’ half brother? Most important of all, if Sarrafian’s agent didn’t bring the vase to Zurich from Lebanon until August 1971, as Hecht says here, how can Dietrich von Bothmer have seen it at Bürki’s, as he said he did, in July 1971?

The very fact that there are two accounts is of course curious. The eighty-eight pages of the memoir contain no other example where Hecht describes events twice and gives different versions. Then there is the fact that there are several parallels in the first “Medici version” that fit with Hoving’s account and not with the other one. These include Hecht invoking the sale of the museum’s coins to pay for the vase, Rousseau’s second trip to Zurich, the fact that the first photographs of the vase showed it with a “spider’s web” of cracks, the comparison in price to the painting by Monet, and Hecht’s worry about “the dollar situation.” Ferri later found out, in his interrogation of Robin Symes, that the London dealer confirmed he had bought a bronze eagle from Hecht, for $75,000, in the early 1970s.

The judge in Medici’s trial was in no doubt about this second version. He said it was “sweetened” and “contains blatant corrections aimed at avoiding possible demands for reimbursement from Museums which had, at very dear prices, purchased objects such as the Euphronios krater.” Just how prescient the judge was, we shall see.


Hecht’s memoir is remarkable, too, for the candid light it throws on other aspects of the antiquities trade. In one section he describes how art and antiquities can be used to obtain highly questionable tax breaks from the Internal Revenue Service.

In the mid-1970s, Hecht crossed paths with Bruce McNall.p They met in May 1974, at a coin auction in Zurich, when McNall, using funds from one of his backers—whom Hecht names—paid the then-record price for a coin, 850,000 Swiss Francs for an Athenian decadrachm.

On that same trip, McNall showed the backer “four fresco panels of the fourth century B.C. 075 which decorated a tomb at Paestum, an ancient Greek city about 50 miles south of Naples.” The backer bought them from McNall for $75,000 and later gave these same frescoes to the Getty where they were valued at $2,500,000. Hecht observes dryly at this point that the backer was in the 50 percent tax bracket, and so, by deducting this from his taxable income he saved $1,250,000 in taxes, in effect a profit of $1,175,000. Later, Hecht says, this backer told him that he “collected” antiquities only in order to make donations to museums and it wasn’t worth his while unless he could get them valued at five times what he had paid. Hecht gives two other detailed accounts of “collectors” who acquired antiquities simply to take tax breaks.3


In the spring of 1975, McNall proposed that he and a certain Sy Weintraub become full partners in Hecht’s holdings and they set up two businesses in Los Angeles, the Summa Gallery and Numismatic Fine Arts. These enjoyed mixed fortunes—which Hecht explores in his memoir.

A late episode in Hecht’s memoir reveals perhaps more than he intended. Here he is describing the process by which the Princeton Collection acquired a psykter from him. Proud of his connoisseurship, his guard slips just a little.

Calls from Mauro [Moroni, a well-known faker of antiquities] were rare because of my relationship with Giac. [Medici] and because of his relationship with Fried [Frida] Tchacos who daringly went to Cerveteri and paid cash on the spot. [But] in June 1984 came a call from Mauro telling me to come to Rome for a sensational r/f vase [with black decoration].

Mauro met me at the airport and we drove directly to his home in Cerveteri to show me the vase. It was a psykter, a vase used for wine cooling, decorated with reclining banqueters drinking from various vessels. . . . Within a few days Mauro delivered the psykter to Zurich and we concluded the deal at $225,000.

Hecht immediately called Robert Guy, at Princeton, and even over the phone he was enthusiastic. Guy said it sounded to him that it was not unlike a particular vase in one of the other main reference works, on south Italian vases, compiled by an Australian scholar, A. Dale Trendall and updated by Professor Alexander Cambitoglou. Based on the description Hecht gave him, Guy made a preliminary attribution to the Kleophrades Painter. Re-assured, Hecht sent photographs to Marion True at the Getty. She was enthusiastic, too, becoming even more so after she showed the photos to Dyfri Williams at the British Museum. Hecht was asked to bring the vase to Malibu as soon as it had been cleaned “and she did not find unreasonable the price of $700,000.”

With the vase cleaned, Hecht hand-carried it personally—aboard Lufthansa, he tells us—just as he had done with the Euphronios krater. With ceremony, he unwrapped the psykter in the library of the Greek and Roman department of the Getty. To his great consternation, however, Marion was not impressed by the real thing. In fact, she was rather cold and asked that the museum’s chief restorer be sent for. All became clear the next morning, when Hecht met True in her office. She told him that the museum would not be buying the psykter because they thought it was a fake. Hecht was incensed.

Some time later, he saw the Getty’s restorer and asked him what had made him suspect the vase was not genuine. The restorer replied that some of the black figures, instead of being bluish black, as was normal in a vase of that kind, had a greenish tinge. Hecht was having none of it.

Actually, the occurrence of greenish figures adjacent to black figures is not unusual and could be caused by the vase breaking in the kiln because of the heat....

From Hecht’s point of view, however, the episode ended happily, because the vase was acquired by the Princeton Art Museum—on the recommendation of none other than Robert Guy. Despite this satisfactory outcome, Hecht couldn’t quite let the matter drop entirely. He had been told, he said, that the doubts that had been sown in Marion True’s mind about the psykter had come from Britain, and he thought the skeptic was Martin Robertson, former professor of Ancient Archaeology at Oxford.

Still he wouldn’t let go.

Shortly after the acquisition by Princeton, Marion True admitted in a telephone conversation that Robert Guy had persuaded her of the psykter’s authenticity.

Now, besides what this reveals about the provenance of Princeton’s red-figured psykter, which the Italian authorities will no doubt be addressing in due course, this episode is also most interesting for the way in which it echoes Hecht’s first account of the Euphronios krater affair (the “Medici version”). It is a straightforward narrative, obsessed with flights and sums of money; it gives bare details about seeing the object in Italy at first; then in Switzerland, dwells on the object’s reception in the United States, shows off his scholarship and learning, and ends with Hecht triumphant in his claims about the authenticity of the object. In tone, details, and style it is a parallel narrative.


In a final part of the memoir, in which he comments on a series of articles in the 1990s about antiquities looting and smuggling in the Boston Globe, by the journalist Walter Robinson, Hecht sets out what we might call his archaeological philosophy. He says he told Robinson, who had telephoned him when researching his articles, that he had never smuggled objects, nor “instigated” the smuggling of objects. He did write that he was “not averse” to buying an antiquity without a pedigree “unless it was demonstrably stolen.” But he went on to insist that “unprovenanced” objects (his quotation marks) are of “more use” to the world if they are in public museums and private collections, rather than in “obscure local salons.” He also claimed that many objects stolen from Italian museums and private collections had been returned through his “agency,” though he did not give any details.

This was, at the least, an interesting use of the verb “instigate.” At several points in the memoir he meets middle men, either in Rome or Athens, is shown antiquities of one kind or another (at discreet venues where he avoids the limelight), discusses their value, or at least their price, and then takes possession of them in Switzerland, from where he sells them on at a handsome profit. Does this not classify as instigation? When he prevailed upon his “respectable” Swiss girlfriend to fly in to Athens, with forty one-thousand-dollar bills, to pay for some silver figures which he had been offered by an Armenian dealer on Pandrossan Street, and then fly out again, taking the figures with her, did this not count as instigation? When he met Mauro Moroni at the latter’s home in Cerveteri and was shown the psykter that was brought to Zurich “within a few days” and which Hecht eventually sold to Princeton, did this not count as instigation? When he demonstrated to Giacomo Medici, in the matter of the kylix with a youth in the tondo, that “quality had a high premium,” did that not count as instigation? He himself said the sale of the kylix was an “eye-opener” for Medici and that, following the incident, “G.M. soon became a faithful purveyor.” We shall encounter similar idiosyncratic use of language again in this book—in Giacomo Medici’s defense at his trial.


Hecht’s interrogation on March 10, 2001, in Paris, took place twenty-five days after the raid in Boulevard Latour Maubourg. It was classic fencing match. From Ferri’s point of view, Hecht was a difficult nut to crack at first, though gradually he did admit some things and contradicted himself several times, so that the overall picture came slowly into focus. Hecht said that he had written the memoir some four or five years before, in 1996 or 1997 (in other words after Hoving’s memoirs), and that it contained only fantasies and things that he had heard. He had wanted to write a fascinating book, he said, that would sell well. He said that the first account of the Euphronios krater affair was the version “the Italians wanted” (even though it had been written four or five years before), that he “only hoped that Medici would give him the vase.” He declined to expand on what, exactly, this meant, though it appears to confirm that Medici had a Euphronios vase in December 1971. He admitted that he knew Marion True but denied, at first, that he had ever sold anything to the Getty Museum. Then he changed his story and said that “maybe” he had sold them a bronze figure in the Attic style that he bought in a Swiss collection, and a black-figure cup, and some red-figure vases.

He could not (or would not) explain why True and Medici didn’t deal directly, “seeing that they knew each other well.” He did sell to the Getty the bronze tripod of the Guglielmi Collection (which turned out to be stolen) but didn’t remember a candelabrum. When challenged that it was in Boursaud’s inventory and shown a photograph, he recognized it and confirmed it had gone to the Getty. He also agreed he had “given” “a few” Apulian vases to the Getty but claimed not to remember the details. He did not remember the name of his suppliers, then named Medici (though he said he bought little from him) and Savoca, from whom he remembered receiving an archaic Greek bronze vase. Hecht remembered buying some coins from Monticelli, and he admitted receiving a small terra-cotta from Scrimbia from Orazio Di Simone and buying two bronze handles and a Greek vase from Becchina. He admitted knowing Sandro Cimicchi, a restorer who had lived in Borowsky’s house. He insisted that he “generally bought unimportant bronzes and vases.”

Regarding the Pompeian frescoes, Hecht said Medici had them in Geneva and had shown them to him, in the Freeport. He sent them to Bürki in Zurich to be restored. He had bought them from Medici and had paid him—the invoices made out to Bürki were what he called “courtesy invoices” for Medici to render importation possible. This was a polite way of saying the invoices did not give the true picture. He agreed that “[h]e lent himself to appearing in place of Medici.” The frescoes were returned to Medici when “the illicit provenance of the frescoes had been pointed out to him.”

The reader can judge for him- or herself as to what weight to attach to Hecht’s replies in his interrogation and how they compare with his written memoir. The other raids and interrogations carried out by Conforti’s men and by Dr. Ferri would confirm certain aspects of Hecht’s memoir but would vividly contradict other parts.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!