The curator of antiquities at California's respected J. Paul Getty Museum went on trial in Rome on Monday accused of receiving stolen artefacts in a case closely watched by the international art world.
After a decade-long investigation, Italian prosecutors charged Marion True, who has been with the Getty for over 20 years, of criminal conspiracy to receive stolen goods and illegal receipt of archaeological artefacts.
True denies the charges and the Getty has defended her.
"We trust that this trial will result in her exoneration and end further damage to the personal and professional reputation of Dr. True," it said in a statement following her indictment.
True did not appear in court for the start of trial, which was adjourned immediately after opening remarks until Nov. 16 in order to provide an English translation of the proceedings.
The case involves some 40 artefacts that prosecutors believe were illegally excavated or stolen and later acquired by the Getty, including a prized ancient Greek statue of Aphrodite.
"We have boxes and boxes of documents and very convincing elements," a source with the prosecution said.
The trial is widely seen as an effort by Italian authorities to crack down on the trade in illegally excavated archaeological items by putting pressure on museums and collectors to verify the origin of artefacts.
"We hope the trial will ensure this kind of crime isn't repeated, that museums learn you can't turn a blind eye to art theft," the source said.
Art experts estimate that the global black market in stolen antiquities generates billions of dollars a year.
Italy and France are the two main targets, accounting for more than 12,000 stolen pieces of art every year, with Italy's churches and archaeological sites a favourite for thieves.
"People need to admit that fantastic artefacts don't just emerge out of the blue," the source added. "Either they're fakes or they've been illegally excavated."
The ruling is also expected to have wider implications for countries trying to retrieve lost and stolen artworks.
The investigation began in 1995 when Swiss police seized thousands of documents and photographs along with some 4,000 stolen artefacts. Investigators say the paper trail showed how a group traded in and "laundered" stolen antiquities.
"They basically describe the last 40 years of illegal trafficking in antiquities from Tuscany and Lazio," a source said, referring to two central Italian regions.
In 2000, the evidence was sent to Italy and served as the basis for a trial of Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici, who is appealing a recent 10-year prison sentence.
Investigators say they will seek a shorter sentence for True and Paris-based art dealer Emanuel Robert Hecht who is also a defendant in the trial. They accuse True of knowingly acquiring stolen artefacts via Medici and Hecht.
In 1999, True and the Getty made the unusual and much-publicised decision to return three artefacts to Italy that they had determined were stolen years before.