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The J. Paul Getty Museum, already embroiled in a dispute with Italy over looted art, now faces demands by Greece over the return of allegedly stolen antiquities.
Greece has backed its claims by presenting archaeological evidence proving the Greek origin of three items ranking among the masterpieces of the Getty's antiquities collection. A gold funerary wreath, an inscribed tombstone and a marble torso were all purchased in 1993. The fourth item, an archaic votive relief, was bought in 1955 by the museum's founder, J. Paul Getty himself.
According to the Greek media, the gold wreath was purchased by Marion True, the museum's former chief curator of antiquities, who resigned this month after 20 years with the Getty, the world's largest and wealthiest museum. Her resignation came about due to a conflict of interest. She reportedly secured a $400,000 (pounds 225,000) loan with the help of one of the Getty's main art suppliers for a holiday house in the Greek island of Paros.
Ms True faces criminal charges in Italy over conspiring with dealers to traffic in stolen goods. Her trial is scheduled to resume next month in Rome.
Greek officials initially lodged their claim nine years ago and renewed it in May. The Greek consulate in Los Angeles said that a 20 May letter to the Getty Museum cited a 'lack of evidence' regarding the time and way the wreath and other objects were exported. The letter pointed out that there is a strong indication that the artifacts entered the art market illegally.
Monday's LA Times said officials in the US had told the Getty before it bought the wreath and marble torso they had almost certainly been looted. The newspaper says Ms True first saw the wreath in a Zurich bank vault but walked away after realising the men she was dealing with were impostors. She went ahead with the deal several months later, museum records show.
Ms True's lawyer referred questions to the Getty but the museum declined to comment. In the past, it has denied knowingly buying stolen artifacts. But the Getty has returned three objects the Italian government claimed had been stolen.
Documents show that the votive relief bought by J. Paul Getty himself was from the archaeological site of the Greek island of Thassos.
EU legislation on prosecuting antiquities smugglers has tightened in the past decade. Artifacts that lack a documented ownership history are presumed to have been illegally excavated.
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