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MFA agrees to return looted artifacts to Italy

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has agreed to return to the Italian government artifacts long suspected of being looted, according to a tentative agreement announced today. In exchange, Italy will loan the MFA objects from the country's vast holdings of antiquities, and work with the museum to make sure the MFA does not acquire stolen works in the future.

MFA officials, who met with the Italian government on Tuesday, said they wouldn't comment on which objects are included in the deal, or when it will be finalized. Though details are still developing, the arrangement appears to mirror one signed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earlier this year. In that agreement, the Metropolitan agreed to return, among other objects, the Euphronios krater, a 2,500-year-old Greek bowl.

The MFA has long contended it did not know of any stolen objects in its collection. But the Italian government has been sharing photographs and documents with the museum that it believes prove that works were dug up on the countryside, cleaned, and then sold to the MFA -- a violation of a 1939 statute requiring dealers to get government approval before moving a piece to another country.

Much of the information has been presented as part of the Italian government's prosecution of former J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True and dealer Robert E. Hecht Jr., both of whom are accused of taking part in a smuggling ring. Hecht, once a premiere art dealer, has sold or given the MFA about 116 objects over the years, not including coins.

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