ROME - Italian officials said they will drop a civil lawsuit in the trial of the J. Paul Getty Museum's former curator after the Los Angeles institution formally signed a deal yesterday to return 40 contested artifacts.
State lawyers will withdraw the civil lawsuit when the two year-old trial of Marion True resumes today. But officials said dropping of civil charges will not stop criminal proceedings against True, who is accused of knowingly acquiring ancient treasures that Italy maintains were stolen or unearthed illegally and smuggled out of the country.
True denies wrongdoing, and top government lawyer Maurizio Fiorilli said the deal signed yesterday could work in her favor.
"True's position is certainly less serious. . . . In this case, returning the artifacts can be considered an extenuating circumstance," Fiorilli told reporters after the deal was signed at the Culture Ministry in Rome.
Fiorilli said the civil lawsuit against True's co-defendant, American art dealer Robert Hecht, remains because the charges against Hecht include the alleged sale of other objects on the international market.
Hecht, too, denies any wrongdoing.
Getty Director Michael Brand said he hopes the agreement, reached last month after a year of negotiations, will put an end to the trial, which is part of Italy's wider campaign to crack down on the illegal antiquities market. Already, Italy has struck deals with two US museums for the return of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts.
"We certainly hope, on the Getty side, that this new spirit of collaboration will lead to the end of that case and will allow the scholar to get back to her life, get back to her research," Brand said after signing the agreement.
All but one of the ancient treasures covered by the deal will be transferred to Italy by year's end. The last and most prized work, a 5th century B.C. statue of the goddess Aphrodite, will remain at the Getty until 2010.
"Long and complex negotiations end, but, above all, a new season of clearness begins in the purchase trade of archeological goods," Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said. "The agreement allows us to close a long discussion with the Getty but also to set an example at an international level" for other museums and the art market.