Marion True on Trial in Greece as Well

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.

Questions or Comments? Email me at

4 thoughts on “Marion True on Trial in Greece as Well”

  1. Under the 2002 law on antiquities, the theft, misappropriation, illegal excavation, export of ancient artefacts, but also the buying and the keeping of such items, are punishable by a prison term up to 10 years. Moreover, if the value of the object is over 150.000€, then it is considered a crime.
    I think you are perhaps a little disingenuous when you criticize this monetary threshold. Of course, the monetary value of an artefact has little to do with its scientific value. But does it mean that the law has to strike the same way the theft of a Macedonian funerary crown and the theft of, say, a Roman cooking pot’s shard ? I for myself am an archaeologist and I often curse the contemporary obsession with the beautiful objects. But I recognize that, from the layman point of view, there should be some sort of scale to assess the damage, and that the only practical one is the market value. What else ?

    Regarding the trial in Greece, there are exactly three surviving crowns like the one True is in trouble for. And, coincidentally, only yesterday, a Greek mason from Thessaloniki was sentenced 5 years and a half in prison for *trying* to sell one of those he had just accidentally found — not an in an illegal dig (I wrote a post about it this morning). Having failed to sell it, he finally gave it to the archaeological service, who put a plaque in his name in the Thessaloniki Museum. But he was nonetheless sentenced 5,5 years ! So I think Marion True can be very worried.

  2. That’s some really interesting information, many thanks for pointing it out.

    I think you are right, True certainly has her hands full. In terms of your comments on monetary value, the criminal law almost always uses value as a threshold for felonies and serious crimes. However for narcotics, offenses are often adjusted based on weight. I think you’re right that we can’t classify these objects based on their intellectual value, but our difficulty in that reveals, I think, where our true priorities lie.

  3. Speaking of money (and power) here are some other pretty interesting numbers which can help to put things in perspective : in 2005, the *entire* budget of the Greek archaeology was 25 millions euros and was more than doubled by the European structural fund grant of 27 millions. Compare these pitiful 52 millions euros to the Getty budget which draws from a 5.5 billions endowment…

  4. Update on the situation : yesterday Voulgarakis and Brandt held a joint press conference about the restitution by the Getty Museum of the macedonian crown and the marble korè. Voulgarakis dismissed rumors that the ministry had been pressured by the Getty museum to treat Marion True mercifully : he emphasized that the Greek justice is independent and do not take orders from the ministry of Culture. Truth or posture ? Time will tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.