Italy won't give up its claim to an ancient Greek bronze stature in the John Paul Getty Museum, Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said on Thursday.
A legal campaign to reclaim the so-called 'Getty Bronze' will continue despite an Italian court ruling in November which severely dented Italy's case, Rutelli said.
The minister acknowledged that the court's rejection of a seizure petition was ''not positive'' but insisted that there was still scope to press Italy's demands.
''It will be a question of a few months. Then we'll see,'' Rutelli said.
In its November 20 ruling, a court in Fano on the Adriatic cleared the California museum of wrongdoing in the case of the statue, which is one of the jewels of its collection.
The 3rd-century BC statue, believed to be the handiwork of the famous Greek sculptor Lysippus, was fished out of the Adriatic off Fano in 1964.
Italy claims it was later smuggled out of the country and has demanded that the Getty hand it back.
Rejected the petition to confiscate the statue, the judge noted that the US museum had bought the work after a Rome court rejected smuggling charges because of lack of evidence.
Other trafficking charges have either lapsed under the statute of limitations or are no longer applicable because of the death of the fishermen and art dealers allegedly involved, the judge said.
It was impossible to prove that the museum knew the object had been smuggled out of Italy, the judge added.
The criminal case regarding the statue was therefore closed, the judge said.
But he offered a faint ray of hope for Italy's bid to reclaim the statue.
''The responsibility of the Getty Museum, which is not of a criminal nature, will have to be established in another forum, possibly via judicial arbitration involving the interested parties,'' he said.
Prosecutors and Italian heritage bodies have appealed against the sentence at Italy's highest court of appeal, the Cassation Court.
The figure has been contested ever since the Getty bought it for almost four million dollars in 1977 - almost 800 times the $5,600 the fishermen sold it to Italian dealers for in 1964.
Entitled The Getty Bronze (Statue of a Victorious Youth), the statue is one of the best-known works in the Los Angeles-based museum.
It was not included in a recent agreement on contested antiquities between Italy and the Getty.
A formal accord in which the American institute promised to hand over the art treasures, including a famous 5th-century BC statue of Aphrodite, was signed by the two sides in Rome on September 25.
The Aphrodite, another touchstone of the Getty collection, is scheduled to come back in 2010.
The other 39 antiquities are now starring in on show at Rome's Quirinale Palace featuring 69 returned masterpieces.
The accord with the Californian museum resolved a long and bitter dispute over the antiquities.
Under the deal, Italy and the Getty agreed to bolster their cultural relations through the loaning of important art works, joint exhibitions, research and conservation projects.
The deal with the Getty was the third between Italy and major US institutions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts also agreed to return key parts of their classical collections in return for loans of equivalent value.
Princeton University has since inked a similar deal for the return of eight Etruscan and Greek artefacts.
Pieces from all four museums appear in the Quirinale show.
Italy is now seeking similar accords with institutes in Cleveland, Denmark and Japan.
Meanwhile, in the first case of its kind, Rome is trying former Getty curator Marion True and an American antiquities dealer, Robert Hecht, for knowingly acquiring smuggled artefacts. Both deny wrongdoing.