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Italy charges that New York museum has its ancient artifacts

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New York (dpa) - Italian investigators plan to ask New York's Metropolitan Museum of Arts to explain the provenance of some of its ancient artifacts, which they said were clandestinely excavated at a site near Rome, The New York Times said Monday.

Italy's ministry of cultures investigators will meet with Philippe de Montebello, director of the New York museum, known as the Met, in Rome Tuesday in what appears to be a looming confrontation between the two sides, The Times said.

"We're going to say, these pieces have emerged as evidence in the trial of a convicted art dealer, they were illegally excavated and taken from Italy, and we would like them back," said Maurizio Fiorillu, a lawyer representing the Italian government.

Italy said the Met has at least 30 ancient artifacts, including a small amphora showing Zeus cradling Dionysus attributed to a painter from the fifth century B.C., which was acquired by the Met in 1982.

The other artifacts included a kylix or a drinking cup from the sixth century B.C. and a pitcher and a red-figured bowl for mixing wine and water from the first century B.C.

Italian investigators said they have Polaroid photographs taken during a raid at a warehouse in Geneva in 1995 showing thousands of illegally obtained artifacts, including the amphora now at the Met. The photographs showed the artifacts still encrusted with dirt or wrapped with Italian newspapers.

The Times said Italian court documents show the Met is in possession of seven vases of "extraordinary artistic quality" that were identified in the photographs seized at the warehouse of Italian art dealer Giacomi Medici.

Medici allegedly sold the artifacts to dealers, including American Robert Hecht, who is standing trial in Rome with Marion True, a former curator of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. True is charged with importing looted Italian antiquities for her museum.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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