The ongoing trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht continued last week in Rome. It is worth remembering perhaps that this prosecution began in 2005 and alleges True and Hecht conspired to traffic in illegal antiquities. One of the important pieces of evidence are the pictures seized in a 1995 raid of a Geneva warehouse.
A number of arguments and defenses still need to be presented, and as Elisabetta Povoledo reported on Friday in the NY Times, True and her lawyers intend to defend the acquisition and challenge the prosecution’s evidence on each object. At the trial True said “If ever there was an indication of proof of an object coming from a certain place, we would deaccession it and return the object, regardless of the statute of limitations”. The difficulty is the two very different views of what this “proof” may entail. True will argue that there was no direct evidence for many of these objects that would indicate they were looted; however the prosecution will surely counter that there must have been some indication that these objects could not have just appeared out of thin air, and these masterpieces were certainly looted. The trade itself capitalizes on these different views by hiding and shielding from view the history of an object.
There are no indications the trial will conclude any time soon, however when it does, one wonders if there is a possibility that the defendants may earn a not-guilty verdict. What consequences might that not-guilty verdict mean? I think to avoid the possibility of other kinds of acquisitions and prosecutions in the future, we should hold institutions to a higher standard of good faith, and the requirements for this should be made plain for museums, dealers and judges to evaluate future acquisitions.