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Getty Museum to Return 2 Greek Treasures

By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
The Associated Press
Monday, December 11, 2006; 11:43 AM

ATHENS, Greece -- The J. Paul Getty Museum on Monday settled a decade-old cultural heritage dispute with Greece, agreeing to hand over two ancient treasures that Athens claims were illegally spirited out of the country.

Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis and museum director Michael Brand said they had "reached an agreement in principle on the return" of a gold wreath and a marble bust. A formal agreement will be signed soon, they said in a joint announcement issued in Athens and Los Angeles, where the Getty Museum is located.

The deal comes as antiquities-rich Greece steps up its campaign to reclaim looted artifacts, thousands of which are prominently displayed in museums and collections worldwide.

Voulgarakis said the objects' return _ which follows a demand first made in 1995 _ would not stop a criminal investigation into the alleged theft of the wreath. Last month, an Athens prosecutor brought charges against "persons unknown," a blanket accusation allowing a magistrate to open a wide-ranging investigation to determine whether anyone should be brought to trial.

"Greek justice is independent" of government intervention, Voulgarakis said.

The fourth century B.C. wreath is decorated with sprays of gold leaves and flowers inlaid with colored glass paste and _ according to Greek authorities _ was illegally excavated in the province of Macedonia. Designed as a burial gift, it was probably made shortly after the death of the Macedonian warrior-king Alexander the Great.

The marble statue, which lacks its head, lower arms and legs, is of a young woman and is a type widespread in southern Greece and the Aegean Sea islands from the mid-seventh to the late sixth centuries B.C.

In September, the Getty museum returned two ancient sculptures dating to the sixth and the fourth centuries B.C. to Greece, following pressure from Athens. These are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Voulgarakis said Greece had not committed to any trade-off with the Getty in exchange for the works, but said he "cannot rule out" lending Greek artifacts to the private museum or organizing exhibitions there in the future.

Italy also has been seeking the return of several antiquities it claims the Getty obtained illegally.

Under Italian law, all antiquities found in the country after 1939 must be turned over to the state. Rome signed separate deals this year with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the return of a total of 34 artifacts in exchange for loans of other treasures.

But talks with the Getty have so far failed to yield a comprehensive deal. Italy demanded the Getty return at least 47 works, and the museum agreed Nov. 21 to return 26 allegedly looted antiquities_ an offer that did not include a highly prized statue of the goddess Aphrodite and a bronze of a victorious athlete. Rome called the offer unilateral and inadequate.

Italy's campaign includes the prosecution of former Getty curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht, who are on trial in Rome for allegedly receiving archaeological treasures stolen from private collections or dug up illicitly. They deny wrongdoing.

© 2006 The Associated Press