British journalist Peter Watson, whose investigations sparked Italian crackdowns on the illicit antiquities trade, testified against the J. Paul Getty Museum's former antiquities curator in a Rome court today, linking her to an Italian smuggler.
Watson said Marion True, the ex-curator accused of buying looted artifacts, spoke fondly of convicted smuggler Giacomo Medici during a 2001 dinner the Getty hosted in Los Angeles.
While the other guests referred to Medici by his surname, ``Marion True referred to `Giacomo' in a very tender way,'' Watson said of the Roman art dealer who was convicted in 2004 of illegally exporting and receiving antiquities.
``I said, `Marion, do you know Giacomo Medici?' And she blushed and said, `No, no, no, it's just a matter of speaking.'''
True, 57, has denied the charges and her lawyers say she bought the antiquities in good faith.
The trial of True and her co-defendant, Paris-based American dealer Robert Hecht, is part of Italy's effort to win the return of stolen antiquities from museums and collectors and stem the looting of tombs and other archaeological sites.
Watson, 62, a journalist and researcher at the University of Cambridge's Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, has been at the center of those efforts.
His 1997 book, ``Sotheby's: Inside Story,'' and an accompanying television documentary used company documents and hidden-camera reporting to show how the auction house facilitated smuggling and sold antiquities known to have been stolen from tombs.
In response, Sotheby's stopped holding regular antiquities sales in London. Watson then helped Italian prosecutors build cases against Medici, True, Hecht and others who are under investigation.
Watson gave Italian investigators three suitcases of documents he'd obtained from a former Sotheby's employee. He also testified in the trial of Medici, 67, who is free while appealing his conviction and 10-year prison sentence.
Watson's next book, ``The Medici Conspiracy,'' goes on sale this year, according to the Web site of its publisher, PublicAffairs.
``The narrative leads to the doors of some major institutions: Sotheby's, the Getty Museum in L.A., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among them,'' the Web site says.
Last month, Italy and the Metropolitan resolved a three-decade dispute when the New York museum agreed to return a 2,500-year-old vase painted by the Greek artist Euphronios and 20 other disputed antiquities. In exchange, Italy agreed to lend objects of equal importance and beauty to the Met, the Western Hemisphere's biggest art museum.
The vase, known as a krater, and four other pots the Met agreed to return were among the objects that led to Medici's conviction. The other pieces, which made up a set of Hellenistic silver, are included along with the krater in the charges against Hecht.
Hecht, 86, denies the charges.
A related piece in the New York Times focuses on the role of Robin Symes (a London antiquities dealer) ....