The New York Times devotes an article to bail being set in another trial of former Getty curator Marion True in Greece yesterday. The trial involves this greek funerary wreath, allegedly removed from the country 15 years ago. The Getty agreed on Dec. 11 of last year to return the wreath to Greece. I discussed that decision earlier here. The NYT reports that in total, five people have been charged in the case, “Ms. True… two Greeks accused of digging up the wreath in northern Greece, Georgios Tsatalis and Georgios Kagias; L. J. Kovacevic, a Serbian national accused of putting them in touch with a middleman; and Christoph Leon, a Swiss-based antiquities dealer who sold the wreath to the Getty in 1993 for $1.1 million.”
True faces a potential 10 year prison term. I found the comments of the investigating magistrate Apostolos Zavitsanos quite interesting, “The wreath’s value of over a million dollars determined the nature of charges brought against Ms. True.” Why do prosecutors use the monetary value of an object to ascertain the seriousness of a crime in this context? It seems to run contrary to the underlying rationales for nationalization of antiquities and restrictions on their export. These restrictions are based on the idea that the important loss which occurs is to the archaeological context, and not the loss of the actual object. If Greece were simply concerned with the loss of beautiful objects, why not just dig up the whole peninsula? Sentencing should also incorporate how much knowledge was lost as a result of the looting in my view.
True has been understandably upset in recent weeks. Back in December, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino of the LA Times managed to uncover a bitter letter written by True to the Getty Trust. True argued that her supervisors were aware of her acquisitions, and were fully appraised of the itinerant risks. The LAT quotes her letter, “Once again you have chosen to announce the return of objects that are directly related to criminal charges filed against me by a foreign government…without a word of support for me, without any explanation of my role in the institution, and without reference to my innocence.” Though the increasing number of criminal charges leveled at her seem to render her cries of innocence increasingly desperate, I can see her point.
It seems as if True was not doing anything much different from other curators and purchasers during this period. The one difference may have been that the vast funds at the Getty’s disposal dictated that she would buy more objects . The trials will show whether she violated Italian and Greek law; however it makes me uncomfortable when a few members of a group are targeted as examples, while others go unpunished. The flaw occurs across many areas of the law, but seems more acute when we think about cultural property. Successful prosecutions are few and far between.