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THE YEAR 2007, like 2006, represents the high point of Conforti’s and Ferri’s achievement. Marion True and Robert Hecht are on trial in Rome, and all the world is watching. Medici’s appeal will be heard and a definitive verdict obtained. But that is not all. In parallel with these events, Prosecutor Ferri is preparing to initiate proceedings against the central figure in the rival cordata—Gianfranco Becchina. And so, after ten long years since the theft at Melfi, since Operation Geryon, since the discovery of the organigram, the three figures at the top of that extraordinary piece of paper—Robert Hecht, Giacomo Medici, and Gianfranco Becchina—are all facing the music.


The trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht began on Wednesday, November 16, 2005, and is expected to last for at least two years—owing to the practice in Italy of limiting court appearances to one or two days a month.

As the trial date approached, stories began to leak out from the Getty Museum itself that were unlikely to have been helpful to Marion True. Most of these leaks came out via the Los Angeles Times, where two reporters—Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino—had been working on the turbulence at the Getty since the spring. Felch had earlier worked on money laundering and political corruption, and Frammolino had exposed a scam at the L.A. County Morgue (involving the removal and sale of eye tissue from cadavers). The reporters began by looking at the troubled tenure of Getty CEO Barry Munitz, who was later forced to resign. In the course of their investigations, they were leaked more than a thousand pages of internal Getty documents that provided the basis for several stories over the following weeks and months. As a Getty spokesperson bluntly noted, these documents had been stolen. The thrust of the leaked documents fell into three categories. In the first place, they showed that, if anything, the situation inside the Getty was even worse than Ferri and Conforti had feared. The documents appeared to show that the museum was aware as early as 1985 that three of its principal suppliers—Hecht, Medici, and Symes—were selling objects that had almost certainly been looted, yet the Getty did nothing about it. There was one note from Hecht, in his handwriting, beginning “Dear Marion,” which read: “Yesterday my friend called me and said that since the carabinieri were looking for the pelike with the arms of Achilles he abandoned negotiations. So I will not have it. Perhaps others may acquire it. Sorry.” Then there was a memo written by John Walsh, relating to a meeting held in September 1987 and attended by Harold Williams, then chief executive of the museum, and Marion True, which was headed, “ANTIQUITIES ETHICS.” Walsh said it was a note of a meeting to consider ethical questions and only considered the problem hypothetically. Nonetheless, his memo contained the lines:

HW: we are saying we won’t look into the provenance{we know it’s stolen {Symes a fence

Whether this is as bad as it looks is hard to say, but in any case it paled in comparison to a third document, a long, tightly spaced three-page memo marked “Confidential” and written in October 1985 by antiquities curator Arthur Houghton and addressed to the Getty’s deputy director, Deborah Gribbon. Houghton had been asked to comment on an article Cornelius Vermeule had prepared on three objects in the museum that had been acquired from Maurice Tempelsman—a statue of Apollo, a ceremonial table with griffins, and a votive basin.ah Houghton wasn’t too impressed with Vermeule’s article, which considered whether the three objects had been made or assembled as a cohesive group. As Houghton saw it, this question could only be settled, not on grounds of connoisseurship but by going back through the chain of individuals who had possessed it. This he had done. His third paragraph read:

At the beginning of this month I had a chance to discuss the matter with the dealer who had bought [the] three objects from the excavators. This individual, Giacomo Medici, had sold one (the lekanis [the votive bath]) to a second dealer, Robert Hecht, and the griffins and Apollo to a third, Robin Symes. Hecht later sold the lekanis to Symes, who then passed on the three sculptures as a group to Maurice Tempelsman, from whom we bought them. Medici informed me that he had acquired the lekanis and Apollo in 1976 or 1977, and that both had been found at the same location, a tomb which included a number of vases by the Darius Painter, at a site “not far from Taranto.” Hecht said the site was Orta Nova, which lies to the northwest of Taranto not far from the Adriatic, and which has produced many fine late fourth century Italiota vases. Medici also said that the Apollo came from the same site, but was found in the ruins of a villa some 150 or 200 meters [490–650 feet] distant from the tomb whence the lekanis and griffins came.... I have passed on the substance of my findings to Cornelius without naming the individuals involved.

Ironically, less than a year later, Houghton resigned from the museum because he thought it was burying its head in the sand as far as illicit antiquities were concerned, not properly addressing the problems. It was Houghton who had been the person at the Getty who discovered that the Lebanese export licenses for the Sevso silver were forged. He seems to have suffered a change of heart around this time and was unable to stomach what was happening in the antiquities underworld. His resignation letter, which we have seen but were not allowed to copy, was strongly worded.

The documents leaked to Felch and Frammolino also showed that the Getty’s questionable acquisitions may have been even more extensive than Ferri knew. An internal review of the documentation in connection with its holdings established that as many as half of the museum’s antiquities masterpieces are of dubious origin. One case cited concerned a gold Greek funerary wreath. An Interpol cable had been turned up in the Getty files indicating that the wreath had been looted and another in which True expressed misgivings when it was first offered to the museum in 1992. During a trip to Switzerland that year, however, True arranged to view the wreath and meet its owner. For some reason, she determined that the man she did meet was an “impostor” and the prospective deal was canceled. “I am afraid that in our case it is something that is too dangerous for us to be involved with,” True wrote in June 1992, to Christoph Leon, the Basel dealer who was acting as an intermediary.

Six months later, she appeared to change her mind. She asked to borrow the wreath from Leon for study, then won approval from the Getty board to buy it for $1.15 million in 1993. In 1998, Interpol sent a query to the FBI, asking the agency to interview True about her relationship with Leon, among other things. Leon declined to comment beyond confirming that he was the intermediary.

The paperwork revealed an internal note arguing that the documentation that had been turned up by the review, though “troublesome,” did not need to be handed over to Ferri “because [the] Italian authorities had not specifically asked for them.” The author of the note concluded: “We should point out that, while these letters are troublesome, none of them amounts to proof of Dr. True’s knowledge that a particular item was illegally excavated or demonstrates her intent to join the conspiracy.”

This of course takes us back to that moment when Richard Martin, the Getty’s attorney, arrived at Ferri’s office with a bundle of documents under his By volunteering documents, as noted earlier, the Getty did not need to provide all relevant papers, which would have been mandatory had the letters rogatory gone through. Ferri had been right to be wary of the American tactics.

Nevertheless, the Getty stood by Marion True and said that in her upcoming trial, they expected her to be exonerated. Not long after, she resigned her position as curator in the Antiquities Department. This was especially hard, for in January 2006, the original Getty Museum—the one in Malibu based on the replica of the Villa dei Papiri—was scheduled to reopen after several years; it had been closed for a $275-million renovation, redesigned specifically to represent its antiquities—including the Fleischman Collection—in more suitable surroundings.

Dr. True explained that her resignation was not directly related to the leaked documents but was because it was revealed that she had bought a vacation home in the Greek islands after Christo Michaelides—Robin Symes’s Greek partner—had arranged a loan of nearly $400,000. This was in violation of the museum’s ethical policy, though the museum had been aware of the loan for three years without taking any action. The museum set up a committee to examine True’s behavior.

True bought her Greek vacation home in 1995, on the island of Paros. She had trouble financing the purchase because American banks wouldn’t lend money on Greek property and Greek banks refused to give loans to foreigners. Christo Michaelides stepped in and introduced her to a lawyer who arranged a loan through an entity called Sea Star Corporation and deposited the funds in a Swiss bank. True repaid the loan a year later. Her attorney said, “To Ms. True’s knowledge, neither Mr. Symes nor any member of the Michaelides family was involved in obtaining the loan for her, save Mr. Michaelides’ introduction to Mr. Peppas [the lawyer].”

Three weeks later, the Los Angeles Times reported that Marion True had received a second loan, of $400,000, this time from Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, which she had used to repay the first one. Furthermore, the loan was made on July 17, 1996, only three days after the Getty had agreed to acquire the Fleischman Collection. True was charged 8.25 percent interest by the Fleischmans, though the loan was unsecured. The special committee set up by the Getty to examine the affair discovered that neither Fleischman nor True had disclosed the loan in annual conflict-of-interest statements. At the time, Barbara Fleischman said she had no intention of leaving the board of the Getty. Speaking of her late husband’s action, she said, “The reason he didn’t hide the loan was because it was an honorable loan to a friend, with interest. There’s nothing sneaky about this.” She added that True had played no part in the financial negotiations over the Getty’s acquisition of the Fleischman Collection.

During our research on the fall of Robin Symes, Dimitri Papadimitriou told us that Christo, his uncle, lent Marion True the money to buy her house on Paros. Christo had, he said, advanced her $360,000, plus $40,000 for legal fees and stamp duty and a Panamanian company had been set up for the purpose by a Mr. Peppas, who had been the family’s lawyer until they fell out “in ’96–’97.” The Panamanian company made the loan to Mrs. True, he said, but the money was “disguised,” meaning that it came from Christo but was made to look as if it came from elsewhere. In the same way, he said, Christo had “bought” Felicity Nicholson’s house on the Fulham Road in London.1 Felicity Nicholson, it will be remembered, was the head of Sotheby’s Antiquities Department.ajRobin Symes told us that he had helped her pay for her house—which cost £20,000—by buying the studio in her garden for £18,000.2 The whole setup between Christo Michaelides, Robin Symes, Felicity Nicholson, and Marion True was very cozy. Our attempts to reach Felicity Nicholson were rebuffed.


As the trial date got closer, the relationships among the various parties became strained and difficult. At one stage, Richard Martin, the Getty’s lawyer, went so far as to argue to Daniel Goodman, the U.S. attorney, that Dr. Ferri had conducted his inquiry improperly. He was referring to “the efforts of the Italian prosecutor to force the Getty to de-accession from its collection a number of antiquities and send them back to Italy in order to avoid having the Curator of Antiquities be prosecuted.... As we have explained, the prosecutor has repeatedly used his criminal power to exert pressure on the Getty to accept a civil resolution.” As in the United States, Martin said, “police and prosecutors in Italy are not permitted to use the threat of a criminal prosecution to pressure a party to reach a civil agreement.” He thought there had been a breach of ethical standards and that in theory the only redress would be to initiate a criminal proceeding “in this case against Dr. Ferri.” Practically speaking, though, he thought that would be futile.

At the same time, Paolo Ferri’s disenchantment with Marion True had grown steadily since he heard Frida Tchacos’s evidence in Limassol, when she said that the Fleischman Collection was more or less a “front” for the museum, by means of which it could still collect objects while at the same time saying that it would only acquire antiquities with a “provenance.” The status of the Fleischman Collection will constitute the most dramatic focus of the evidence against Dr. True.


Back in 1994, when his Renault overturned near Cassino and Pasquale Camera was killed, a number of photographs of antiquities were found in the car’s glove compartment. These included a picture of a vase by Asteas, one of the most important artists of Paestum in southern Italy in the fourth century BC.

The principal figure in a large workshop and one of only two southern Italian painters to sign his work, Asteas may have invented the freestanding half-palmette motif as a frame to an image. He liked myth and theatrical scenes, often explaining his compositions by means of inscriptions, and he had a biting sense of humor—for example, he delighted in showing the gods behaving in far from heroic ways. The lekythos shown in the photograph in the Renault’s glove compartment was very important.

It took a while to locate the vase—because the discoveries in Medici’s warehouse in the Geneva Freeport consumed most of the energies of Conforti and Ferri—but eventually, sometime in 1998, Pellegrini discovered that the Asteas lekythos was in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Ferri immediately wrote to the Getty, asking who had sold the museum the vase. This time, the supplier wasn’t Medici but his arch-rival, Gianfranco Becchina, of Basel.

By then, of course, Camera’s organigram had been discovered in Danilo Zicchi’s apartment, showing that Medici and Becchina were the most important Italians in the whole underground network.ak The fact that a photograph of the Asteas vase was found in the glove compartment of Camera’s wrecked car, with the real thing in the Getty, gave Ferri sufficient reason to target Becchina’s Basel premises—his gallery, Antike Kunst Palladion, and a warehouse in the city’s Freeport—the way he had targeted Medici’s warehouses in Geneva. A rogatory letter was sent to the Swiss authorities.

While he was awaiting their reply, background checks on Becchina by the Carabinieri established that in the mid-1990s, he had moved back to Castelvetrano. Becchina is Sicilian. Now in his mid-sixties, he was born and grew up in Castelvetrano. Situated in the west of the island, inland from the port of Marsala, Castelvetrano is a small town but figures large in Sicily’s criminal history. It was here that the body of Salvatore Giuliano—the legendary “bandit”—was left in 1950. His killing was a mystery. Officially, he was shot by the Carabinieri, attempting to escape. However, Giuliano was well informed and this may be the reason he was killed—he knew too much. And Castelvetrano is very near the wine-growing Belice Valley, scene of a massive earthquake in 1968, which became the subject of a major scandal when the local Mafia creamed off so much of the rescue money that was raised to help the victims that, twenty years afterward, thousands of people were still living in shacks. Castelvetrano is Cosa Nostra country.

The reality of life in Sicily is that the illicit excavation of potentially valuable antiquities cannot take place without at least the tacit permission of organized crime. This does not, of course, mean that Becchina was or is a member of the Mafia, only that any goods he received from Sicily would, in the nature of things, have come with Cosa Nostra’s blessing.

Becchina appears to have moved back to Castelvetrano for two reasons. One was that he was also involved in the building materials business—he had two companies, one in Greece called Heracles Cement and one in Sicily called Atlas Cement. These companies provided building materials for the Athens subway, then under construction. The second reason for Becchina’s move was the raid on Medici, which suggested to him that Switzerland was no longer the safe haven it had been.

But though Becchina had transferred back to Sicily, his wife hadn’t. Becchina’s wife is German. Her full name is Ursula Juraschek, but she is known as “Rosie.” She remained in Basel, and her telephone calls with her husband were monitored by the Carabinieri. In fact, for eight months solid, says Ferri, he tapped all calls in and out of Becchina’s Castelvetrano home. These showed that Rosie visited Sicily frequently but that Becchina—a prudent man—visited Basel only two or three times a year. All the same, the content of the phone taps confirmed that he still maintained close control over his antiquities business in Basle.

The phone taps also proved useful for what they revealed about the Becchinas’ business practices, in particular that they had more than one set of premises. And so, this time, when permission to raid the Freeport warehouse finally came through from the Swiss, and bearing in mind Ludovic de Walden’s experience with Symes, rather than carry out the raid immediately, Conforti and Ferri decided to have Rosie Becchina followed.

Sure enough, she led them to two other warehouses, one inside Basel Freeport and one outside. She was observed coming and going freely in and out of these warehouses, but it also attracted the interest of both the Italian Carabinieri and the Swiss police that these other warehouses were registered not in the Becchinas’ name, but in that of a well-known Mafioso.

In May 2002, the raids took place. Between the three warehouses, the raiding party discovered approximately 5,000 objects, many broken in pieces, many still dirty with soil on them, many restored. Becchina had fewer photographs than Medici, but he still had a great many, about 30 percent of which were Polaroids.

The documents found showed that one of Becchina’s main suppliers was Raffaele Monticelli—another name from the organigram, a man who was convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities in July of that very year, 2002, and sentenced to four years in prison.alBecchina had four entire folders devoted to his dealings with Monticelli, each containing long lists of objects and many Polaroids.

One interesting difference between Becchina and Medici lay in the quality of the items in the Basel warehouses. Later on, Ferri sent a small team of experts to examine the material in Basel, just as he had done in Geneva. This time it was two archaeologists and Maurizio Pellegrini, as document expert. They produced a two-volume report, physically matching on each page the photographs to the documentation, and linking them to specific sites in Italy, as had been done with the objects in Medici’s warehouse. From this, one of their conclusions was that the overall quality of objects at Becchina’s warehouses was, if anything, higher than in Geneva. “Medici was more selective than Becchina,” says Ferri. “Becchina did not have the ‘peaks,’ the objects of world importance that Medici had, though he did have some things that were significant. But the average level of his objects was very high. Whereas Medici was selective, Becchina bought the whole raccolto [the whole harvest].” This may have been to encourage capi zona to sell to him rather than to others. The Monticelli trial showed that some of his tombaroli were paid regular wages, and perhaps this approach—employing tomb robbers full-time and buying all they unearthed—is how Becchina assured he would receive the high-quality material that was found on his premises in Basel.

The documents revealed that Becchina sold mostly through Sotheby’s in London, though he did have one folder showing what he had sold at Christie’s, also in London. These folders contained many photographs of what was auctioned and when, meaning that in due course, archaeologists will be able to follow the Becchina trail through the world’s salesrooms.

Just as Medici used Editions Services as the main company through which he consigned material to the auction house, keeping his own name off the records, so Becchina sold 10–15 percent of his material through Mrs. Anna Spinello. This was the married name of his sister (in colloquial Italian, “spinello” means a cannabis “joint”). The documents seized in Basel show Becchina’s handwriting alongside the lists of articles sold in Spinello’s name, as he notes which objects have been sold, or bought-in (failed to sell), or withdrawn. But Becchina also used at least one other name, with an address in Buenos Aires, which may have had to do with the fact that Anna Spinello’s husband is Italo-Argentinian.

In the late 1990s, it appeared to Pellegrini and to Ferri that Becchina was selling but no longer buying. Of course, some of his suppliers had themselves been arrested but it was as if, following the raid on Medici’s warehouse, Becchina was running down his operations in Basel, confirming the earlier impression that Switzerland no longer offered the business opportunities it once did. However, Ferri kept up the phone taps and, in the wake of the raid, he heard Becchina say, in regard to the warehouses that had been targeted, “Have they found the other one?” This exchange led to the discovery of a fourth warehouse in Basel, consisting mainly of documents. Even this took time, however, and because the fourth warehouse was identified only in September 2005, those documents—about 30 percent of the total—have not yet been made available in Italy and so have not yet been properly assimilated. They may throw a different light on events.

Even so, it is already clear, according to Dr. Ferri, that Becchina had close relations with Dietrich von Bothmer, the Metropolitan Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum, Jerome Eisenberg, a dealer with galleries in New York and London, and the Louvre in Paris. Arielle Kozlov, a curator at Cleveland, left the museum in 1997 and joined the Merrin Gallery in New York. Among the Becchina documents was a letter from the Merrin Gallery asking Becchina not to write his name on the back of the photographs he sent them, showing antiquities for sale. For Ferri, however, the main area of activity where Becchina differed from Medici concerned Japan.


The documents show that over the years, Becchina dealt mainly with two Japanese dealers, the colorfully named Tosca Fujita, whose company was Artemis Fujita, and Noriyoshi Horiuchi, a Tokyo-based dealer who at various times has had galleries in London and Switzerland. A great deal of correspondence was generated in the 1980s over the authenticity—or otherwise—of an alabastron that Horiuchi had bought from Becchina. The correspondence relating to this underlines the close relationships among Horiuchi, Becchina, Dietrich von Bothmer, and Robert Guy.

In the 1980s, Horiuchi was unknown outside the narrow world of antiquities dealing, but in 1991 his life changed. He met Mihoko Koyama and the idea for the Miho Museum was born.

The Miho Museum is a curious institution. Opened in November 1997, the museum is the brainchild of Koyama, heiress to a Japanese textile fortune who is also a disciple of the Japanese religious philosopher Mokichi Okada (1882–1955). In the early twentieth century, Okada invented an imitation diamond, which made him rich and allowed him the leisure to study art and develop his philosophical and spiritual beliefs, the chief of which was that a divine spiritual purification would “soon occur” through a global catastrophe, unless humanity could rid itself of sickness, poverty, and discord by means of “prayer, natural agriculture and the appreciation of beauty.” It is the third aspect of Okada’s belief system—the “soul-refining propensities of aesthetic experience”—that led to the creation of the Miho Museum.

After Okada’s death, Mihoko Koyama founded her own religious sect, known as Shinji Shumeikai, which means “Divine Guidance Supreme Light Organization” and has attracted thousands of adherents. She also began to collect Japanese tea ceremony objects and at first planned a museum devoted solely to Japanese antiquities. However, I. M. Pei, the architect for the museum, suggested to her during their discussions that the new museum should display antiquities from all over the world, making it unique in Japan.

The museum, which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Kyoto, in the wooded mountains of Shigaraki, contains a dramatic entranceway: a steel-lined tunnel sliced through a mountain, leading to a 400-foot suspension bridge slung across a ravine. The museum may then be seen across the ravine, half hidden by trees and sometimes shrouded in mist.

It is said to have cost $250 million to design and build. When it opened, in November 1997, it had acquired more than 1,000 antiquities, 300 of them—by common consent—of outstanding significance. Over seven years, from 1991 to the opening, the responsibility for acquiring those antiquities—at the rate of around three a week—was Horiuchi’s. Having first met Mihoko Koyama and her daughter in 1991, the trio soon became firm friends and Horiuchi was appointed consultant to the museum and given a huge budget—reportedly $200 million—to acquire non-Japanese antiquities.

During those years there was no shortage of controversy. Horiuchi had several acrimonious battles with I. M. Pei, who complained that he had constantly to redesign the museum to accommodate Horiuchi’s acquisitions. There have been several allegations that Horiuchi, who has no formal training in archaeology or art history (he studied law), has bought fakes, that he won’t admit it because of the loss of face involved, and that some of the pieces in the museum form part of the Treasure of the Western Cave, illegally excavated and smuggled out of Iran in the early It is certainly true that most of the antiquities on display in the Miho have no provenance.

By Horiuchi’s own admission, very little of what he acquired was bought at auction—in what is perhaps the only full interview he has given, he said he bought from “top dealers” at “top prices.”

Speaking of his first meeting with Mihoko Koyama in 1991, in that same interview, Horiuchi said, “Destiny brought us together,” though there may be more to it than that.

Among the Becchina documents is an agreement signed after a creditors’ meeting held in Geneva in 1991. This was a meeting held between four creditors—all Swiss antiquities dealers, of which Becchina was one—called because Horiuchi owed each of them substantial amounts of money and showed no prospect of paying. According to the agreement drawn up at the end of the meeting, and signed by all those present, the decision taken was for Horiuchi to become the agent for his creditors in Japan. In other words, so far as these four Swiss dealers were concerned, from then on Horiuchi was not allowed to buy directly from them, and sell on; instead he could only take a percentage of whatever price they chose to put on their objects.

The close proximity of this creditors’ meeting and Horiuchi’s meeting with Mihoko Koyama was therefore extremely fortuitous, to say the least, destiny bringing together not just these two individuals but placing the antiquities underworld cheek-by-jowl with one of the greatest sources of art funding the world has ever seen. In time, as the Becchina documents reveal more and more, we will no doubt find out just where so much of the Miho material originated.


After the raid on the first three warehouses, Rosie Becchina refused to cooperate with the Swiss and Italian authorities and she was held in prison. This produced the desired effect, to some extent, and she did admit, for example, that one of their main suppliers was Monticelli, invaluable confirmation of that cordata, from the horse’s mouth. She also contacted a lawyer, Mario Roberty—the same attorney used by Frida Tchacos and Robin Symes—and Roberty called Becchina to tell him his wife had been arrested. (It was during this call that Becchina asked if the police had discovered his “other” warehouse.) Learning that his wife had been arrested, Becchina asked Roberty to tell Rosie that he was immediately leaving Sicily for Basel.

Neither Alitalia nor any other regular airline flies directly from Palermo to Basel, so Becchina had to change planes at Milan. At Malpensa airport, at the gate where the Palermo flight arrived, he was arrested and immediately taken to Rome. Before he could be interrogated, Becchina claimed that he was mad—pazzo in Italian—and clinically incapable of either being held in jail or of being interviewed. Once again, this well-known maneuver interested Ferri because such a claim is in Italy a standard tactic. Becchina was seen by a psychiatrist who concluded that although he did have some problems with his memory, he was quite sane enough to remain in jail. He was held for six months, after which, under Italian law, he was automatically released.

Ferri interrogated him for eight hours but didn’t get very far. Becchina admitted knowing many of the people mentioned in this book—Frida Tchacos, Medici, Symes, Hecht, Cottier-Angeli, True (“a very nice woman”), and Dietrich von Bothmer—but he could scarcely deny it since their names were all over his documentation. But he admitted nothing incriminating, as his wife had admitted receiving material from Monticelli. “All he did was fare salotto,” says Ferri. In Italian, salotto means “sitting room” and the phrase means that the interrogation had all the significance of a fireside chat.

But in the course of the eight-hour interrogation, further differences did emerge between Becchina and Medici. Psychologically, whereas Medici is “spaccone,” a bit of a show-off, given to letting off steam, Becchina is a classical Sicilian—reserved, calm, a closed book. Small, slightly built, with straight lank hair and a sharply pointed nose, Becchina is physically very different from Medici, too. He makes no gesticulations and, while admitting nothing, Ferri says, “Unlike Medici, he has never tried to convince me he is innocent.”


Robert Hecht, Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes, and Marion True—all in court or in the prosecutor’s sights, all involved (or alleged to be involved) in smuggling, receiving, conspiracy. This is a major event in the history of archaeology, in criminology, in the politics of cultural heritage, and in the foreign policy of the Mediterranean countries. It is a major indication of the way the world’s attitudes and ethical beliefs are changing in this area. However, there is a sense that the legal fate of these figures is, if not an incidental matter, no longer the main event. The sheer scale of the illicit trade in looted antiquities, its organized nature, the routine deception, the superb quality of so much of the material, the close proximity of museum curators and major collectors to underworld figures—that is now there for all to see. Whatever verdicts are handed down, other, lesser figures in the underground network have already stood trial and been convicted.

Irrespective of the verdicts in the outstanding court cases, in November 2005, American museums started to return antiquities to Italy. The Getty set the ball rolling with the return of the Asteas vase, a photograph of which had been found in the glove compartment of Pasquale Camera’s overturned Renault near Cassino (see pp. 11–13). At the same time, the museum returned two other objects, the bronze candelabrum from the Guglielmi Collection (pp. 84–86), and a stone stela with inscriptions from the archaeological site of Selinunte in Sicily.

But this paled alongside the announcement, in February 2006, that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was returning the Euphronios krater, together with twenty other objects, to Italy. That transaction, and its implications, are considered in the Epilogue, because it was, and is, a special case. But the Met’s move did presage several ripple effects that may be considered here.

The first of these occurred at the end of September 2006, when, after months of negotiations, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston announced that it was returning thirteen archaeological treasures to Italy. “We are committed to seeing the end of illegal excavations and illicit trade in archaeological works of art,” said director Malcolm Rogers at a formal ceremony in Rome. “This is a new era of legality.” He added that his museum and the Italian authorities now had a “collegial relationship.”

One of the artifacts to be returned, a two-handled amphora from the fourth century BC attributed to the Darius painter, was donated to the museum in 1991 by Shelby White. Another, a statue of Vibia Sabina, wife of the second-century emperor Hadrian, was acquired in 1979 from Fritz Bürki, with Hecht as intermediary. Several other pieces were acquired through Robert Hecht. Still others were acquired through Palladion Antike Kunst, Becchina’s gallery in Basel.

Rogers insisted that the museum had acquired the objects in good faith but added that “the balance of evidence” presented by Italy now “favored the return of the objects,” though he did not expand on what he meant.

The return of the objects is to be welcomed, as was the Getty’s decision, a month later, to return twenty-six ancient antiquities to Rome. Those negotiations, however, did not go as smoothly as those with the Boston museum. (One observer described the Getty negotiations as “tempestuous.”) The objects to be returned included many referred to in this book—for example, the Attic Red-Figured Mask Kantharos (p. 90), the Two Griffins Attacking a Fallen Doe (p. 124 and the photo section, where Medici is standing alongside the Griffins), the Douris Phiale Fragments (p. 226), and the Antefix in the Form of a Meanad and Silenos Dancing (p. 373 in the Dossier section)—but the Italians were less than satisfied. The reason for their dissatisfaction lay in the fact that by that stage they had identified no fewer than forty-six objects in the Los Angeles museum that they maintained had been illegally excavated from Italian soil. Following John Walsh’s tenure at the Getty, he had been followed by Deborah Gribbon, but she had resigned abruptly, after disagreements with Barry Munitz, president of the Getty Trust (see below). She, in turn, had been succeeded by Michael Brand. Brand now said that the museum had made “substantial compromises” during the negotiations but that Italy’s position “stood in the way of reaching a comprehensive agreement.” Relations deteriorated still further in December, with a sharp exchange of letters and rebuttals, in which the main bone of contention was Italy’s claim for a Greek bronze statue that the Getty insisted had been found in international waters. Italy rubbed in its attitude by agreeing to lend several antiquities to both the Met in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, as an act of friendship and in response to those museums’ willingness to return objects.

In the epilogue, we will make the point that the Metropolitan Museum in New York is not quite the whiter-than-white institution it makes itself out to be, but for now we will concentrate on the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for there is rather more to say about Boston’s return of those thirteen objects than they have so far said themselves. Thanks to the research of two British academics—David Gill and Christopher Chippindale—who published their report in the International Journal of Cultural Property, Boston’s collection comes into focus almost as much as those of the Getty and the Met. Gill and Chippindale point out that there is much more to Boston’s return than meets the eye.

In the first place, they say, some of the material returned by Boston was originally said to have been in old collections—i.e., in collections formed before 1970, the Unesco cut-off date (as discussed in Chapter 2). Furthermore, one object that was returned, an Apulian bell-krater, was said to have been in the Holger Termer Collection in Hamburg. But, Gill and Chippindale say, this “collection” may be no more than the stock of the Galerie Neuendorf in Hamburg: They have reconstructed the collection from the archives and find that more than half of the objects passed through the Neuendorf Gallery. Earlier (p. 95), we referred to the Zbinden Collection in Switzerland and the S. Schweitzer Collection in Arlesheim, which appear to have been used as false attributions to deflect suspicion from a number of objects which would otherwise lack a history. Must we now add the Holger Termer Collection to this list?

Their second point is to question whether the thirteen objects returned so far can be an end to the matter. They identified a list of ninety-two more important items acquired through Hecht.3 What will be the ultimate fate of this group of antiquities?


In September 2006, Giacomo Medici, awaiting his appeal, offered Paolo Ferri a deal. Although he would not talk to us, he told Vernon Silver, of Bloomberg News Service, that he was willing to return “a previously unknown masterpiece,” known only as “Object X,” in exchange for the abolition of his fine and a reduction in the jail time he was facing, should he lose his appeal. Medici told Silver the object he was referring to was by a famous artist from the ancient world, “whose work compares to that of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci.” It was, he said, “worth millions,” and compared in value with the Euphronios krater.

There were other reports that, in exchange for “Object X,” Ferri was willing to reduce Medici’s sentence to six years, but the prosecutor was wary. “It could be a bluff,” he said, adding that he would rather lose Medici’s masterpiece than get duped.

Medici’s offer, of course, sat oddly with his defense during his trial, or one of them anyway, that he was amassing antiquities in Geneva in order to return them to Italian museums. “To bring them to Italy and donate them all to a museum. I repeat: gift . . . ” (see p. 272). Where had this “masterpiece” been in the interim? Why hadn’t he donated it before, if he was so sure such objects belonged in Italy? As this book went to press, “Object X” was still in limbo.


Ferri and his colleagues were more concerned with others in and around the cordate. At the end of November 2006, the Italians asked Shelby White to consider returning twenty ancient artifacts that she and her late husband had collected. Maurizio Fiorilli, the lawyer for the Italian Culture Ministry, hastened to say on this occasion that Ms. White was not being accused of any crime and that his government was relying on “moral suasion.” He said he thought the evidence spoke for itself and that the Italians hoped that her “sensitivity” to the situation would influence her to return the objects.

White insisted to us that neither she nor her late husband had ever met Medici, and had only ever bought from auction houses and dealers “considered reputable at the time.” White’s communications counselor, Fraser P. Seitel, said that White had always been very open about her and her late husband’s collection, always making “their collection available to scholars and for public exhibition purposes.... In fact, you could argue that it is precisely because Shelby White and Leon Levy were so willing to share their collection with the public, that they have attracted attention.” He said that White had, herself, initiated discussions with the Italians.

The timing of the Italians’ move in connection with Shelby White was interesting. Only a few days before, the Metropolitan Museum had released its advanced publicity in connection with the opening, in April 2007, of its new Greek and Roman Galleries, which are named for and financed (to the tune of $20 million) by Mr. Levy and Ms. White. It was not clear, as this book went to press, whether any objects from the Levy-White collection would be displayed in the new galleries. Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, declined to comment on the matters raised in this book.


At the Getty, there was good and bad news. One piece of good news was that, in January 2006, the Getty Villa, the original Getty Museum in Malibu—just north of Los Angeles on the Pacific coast—re-opened after a $339 million renovation, to display 1,200 of the museum’s 44,000-piece collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. The renovation, designed by architects Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti and featuring a bronze staircase and reflecting pool, was judged a success, described as “vibrantly splendid” by one critic and “an exquisite work of architecture” by another. It was a success with the public, too: by the end of January, the museum had sold all available tickets until the end of July.

Another piece of good news was that, in December 2006, the Getty Trust—the body that oversees the museum—announced its replacement for Barry Munitz, the president. Munitz had resigned the previous February, after eight years in the job that had been dogged by controversy. Among the charges leveled against him—mainly in the Los Angeles Times—were that he had lavishly spent Getty funds on himself and his wife, buying a $72,000 Porsche Cayenne, staying in $1,000-a-night hotels, traveling first class on airplanes, and even ordering his assistant to express-mail umbrellas to him where he was on his travels. (The Internal Revenue considers excessive pay, travel, and perks to be “self-dealing,” the illegal use of tax-exempt resources for private benefit. Under the tax code, non-profit organizations must use their resources for the public good.) Munitz, without admitting any wrongdoing, paid the Getty Trust $250,000 “in order to resolve any continuing disputes with him” and gave up severance pay and benefits that would have exceeded $1.2 million. He was replaced by James N. Wood, an art historian and former president of the Art Institute of Chicago.

By then, the museum had specifically addressed the problem of its dealing in antiquities. At the beginning of October 2006, it was announced that the California attorney general had appointed an independent monitor to oversee reforms. It was the first time the California attorney general’s office had imposed an overseer in an enforcement action against a charitable trust. At the end of the month, the museum announced that it had strengthened its rules for buying or accepting ancient artifacts. Under the new policy, the museum said it would not consider any object whose provenance did not reach back to at least 1970, the date of the landmark Unesco convention. Michael Brand said that the new rule was adopted “even though it will make it much more difficult for the museum to continue to buy antiquities.”

And so, finally, the Getty—and with it, surely, most other American museums—had been dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, after months and months of scandal.

Just over a week later, Marion True, in a written “clarification” addressed to the Rome court, described the market for ancient art as probably “the most corrupt” of art markets. “I knew, in fact, that the antiquities market was filled with risks for those who wished to purchase objects, as it included many unscrupulous dealers, who had no qualms about selling fakes or objects that had been stolen or exported illegally from their country of origin,” she said in a nineteen-page memo seen by Vernon Silver of Bloomberg News. “The museum had to accept the premise that the majority of antiquities available on the market had, in all probability, been exported from the countries of origin illegally.” This was damning, but the rest of her statement sought to cast herself and the Getty as reformers in a corrupt market. (This had been John Walsh’s argument in his depositions to the Italian court—see pp. 218–219). When she took the job of curator at the Getty in 1986, she said she had helped draft a memo to the Getty board exploring whether “it was possible to continue to collect antiquities in a tainted market.” As this book had shown, the Getty didcontinue buying, but among the steps True took to battle the illicit trade, she said, was the ban on buying objects that hadn’t been part of a known collection or been documented in a publication before 1995. This of course refers to the acquisition of the Fleischmann Collection (which is discussed on pp. 114–123, 193, 198, and 220), from where it will be seen that Dr. True’s version of events is not the only possibility.

Later in the trial, Dr. True asked the court to admit as evidence a letter she had sent on December 18, 2006, addressed to Deborah Marrow, the Getty Trust’s acting chief executive, Michael Brand, and Ron Hartwig, the trust’s spokesman. In the letter, which was read in court, she accused the Getty Trust of having left her to “carry the burden” of the institution’s collecting practices, even though her superiors at the museum and the trust had “approved all the acquisitions made during my tenure.” She faulted the museum for a “lack of courage and integrity” and added that her Getty superiors “were fully aware of the risks involved in buying antiquities” and had still approved her decisions. She argued that the Getty Trust’s failure to throw its weight behind her (though it was paying for her defense) had allowed prosecutors in Rome and Greece (see next chapter) to “place squarely on my shoulder the blame for all American collecting institutions and the illicit market.”

Commenting afterward to reporters, Ferri said he thought that, on a first reading, the letter “worked against” Dr. True by suggesting that she had knowingly taken part in the acquisition of illicit artifacts. “She accuses the Getty of having been aware of all her decisions,” he said, adding that she did not avoid dubious purchases. “She did not pop up out of nowhere,” he said, but was “continuing an established practice.”

At much the same time, in early January 2007, the Los Angeles Times returned to the attack. Frammolino and Felch reported on a four-month investigation into the so-called Morgantina Aphrodite. This had been, ostensibly, the Getty’s most sensational acquisition. More than seven feet high, with a serene marble face and a swirling limestone gown, this, the Greek goddess of love, was acquired by the Getty for a reputed $18 million in 1986. The statue, larger than life-size, is a rare example of an almost-complete cult statue. Some idea of its importance may be gleaned from the wording of Marion True’s report to the board when it was being considered for acquisition: “The proposed statue of Aphrodite would not only become the single greatest piece of ancient art in our collection; it would be the greatest piece of classical sculpture in this country and any country outside of Greece and Great Britain.”

But there were early signs of trouble. Luis Monreal, a former director of the Getty Conservation Institute, now working in Geneva as general manager of the Aga Khan’s Trust for Culture, said there was dirt in the folds of the gown when it arrived at the museum, and the torso had what appeared to be new fractures, “suggesting that the statue had been recently unearthed and broken apart for easy smuggling.”

The reporters traced other experts who had raised doubts early on and re-created the statue’s clandestine route out of Italy. This chain allegedly involved a certain Renzo Canavesi who, according to a receipt found by a Sicilian investigation, sold the statue to Robin Symes in March 1986, for $400,000.

The chances are the Aphrodite will go back to Italy. The Getty has announced that as their intention. However, should there remain any doubt in the matter, we can quote here from extracts in the Symes’ archive, which we have seen and which confirm and amplify various aspects of the matter. The Symes archive shows, for example, that Symes did indeed pay $400,000 for the statue and that it was sold to the Getty for $18 million, with the first installment due in “summer 1992.” A further note added that the sale “coincided with the appointment of a friend . . . as the curator of the museum.” The note also says that the statue was “probably Aphrodite . . . probably from south Italy or Sicily,” and that it was carved originally in pieces but had been damaged when it had been toppled either by an earthquake or vandals. The note added that the statue showed “encrustations” and deposits of “soil.” Most interesting of all, however, is the fact that this file also contained photocopies of Polaroid photographs of the statue, showing how it had originally been pinned together.


One other development since the hardcover version of this book remains to be mentioned. On March 29, 2006, one of the authors, Peter Watson, gave evidence in the trial of Marion True. He recounted an unusual incident that had taken place at a conference on the trade in illicit antiquities, which had been held at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California in Los Angeles, in Spring 2001. The conference dinner had been held at the Getty Museum and during the course of a conversation on Medici and his tradings, Dr.True had referred to him as “Giacomo.” At least two of the fellow diners who heard this reference were disconcerted by Dr. True’s familiar tone.

But a much more notable event took place shortly afterward. The authors were standing outside the court room, after that day’s proceedings were over, talking to Prosecutor Ferri when his cellphone rang. He listened intently and then looked up. “Marion True’s house in Paros was raided today by Greek police.”

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