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officers raided a villa in an Athens suburb owned by the Papadimitriou family

Illegal Antiquities Cache Prompts Greek Inquiry
By ANTHEE CARASSAVA
ATHENS, April 18 — The Greek authorities said on Tuesday that they were investigating a suspected conspiracy to smuggle antiquities hidden on a remote island to major museums and other buyers abroad.

The inquiry, described by the Greek culture minister, George Voulgarakis, as "one of the most complex cases in recent history," springs from a raid last week in an Athens suburb and another on Skhoinousa, a tiny Greek island, where the police discovered a vast cache of ancient artifacts, some more than 3,000 years old.

Mr. Voulgarakis said at a news conference that the antiquities seized at Skhoinousa, an island in the Cyclades, were stored in containers. Items cataloged so far by archaeologists range widely in age and geographic origin, he said, from marble busts of Roman gods to Corinthian columns, from Christian icons to an Egyptian amphora, with dates running from the early Hellenistic era to the post-Byzantine period.

Evidence retrieved in the raid indicated that many of the items had been bought at Christie's or Sotheby's between 2001 and 2005, although none had been declared to the Greek authorities before entering the country, as required by law, he said.

Specifically, the authorities are trying to determine whether the cache has any links to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Mr. Voulgarakis said.

Nearly three weeks ago the police raided a villa owned by the Getty's former antiquities curator, Marion True, on Paros, an island near Skhoinousa, and removed more than a dozen antiquities that had not been registered with the authorities. And for months, Greek officials have been pressing the Getty to return four artifacts in its collection that they contend were illegally removed from the country.

Still, Mr. Voulgarakis cautioned that "we should not rush to any conclusions" on any link between the Getty itself and the newly uncovered trove. No arrests have been made in connection with the raids, the minister added.

Ron Hartwig, a Getty spokesman, said on Tuesday that the museum's knowledge about the investigation was limited to news reports, but that it had tried to contact the proper Greek authorities. "We will meet with them at any time for discussions," he said. "The invitation has been extended on our part."

A spokesman for Sotheby's, Matthew Weigman, said in New York: "At this stage, we are aware only that boxes were apparently found with Sotheby's and Christie's' names on them. We have no more information than that."

A Christie's spokesman in New York, Rik Pike, said: "We hold regular antiquities sales both in London and New York, and the contents of these sales are published in our auction catalogs and at our Web site. However, without further details, we cannot comment on this case."

The raids are likely to refocus attention on the collecting of unprovenanced artifacts by the Getty and other major museums as well as on antiquities auctions.

While registered in the name of a Panama-based offshore company, the sprawling seaside villa on Skhoinousa belongs to Dimitra Papadimitriou, a member of a prominent Greek shipping family who lives in London. Ms. Papadimitriou's brother, the art dealer Christos Michailidis, who died in 1999, was the business partner of the London-based antiquities dealer Robin Symes.

Ms. True acquired millions of dollars' worth of artifacts from Mr. Symes for the Getty's prized collection of Roman, Greek and Etruscan works, which were recently reinstalled in the museum's renovated villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

In October Ms. True resigned from the Getty in response to allegations of improprieties involving the purchase of her Paros vacation house in 1996. The museum said that she had secured a loan for the deal with a lawyer referred to her by Mr. Michailidis. Under Getty policy, this posed a conflict of interest because of her purchases from Mr. Symes, the museum said.

At the same time, Ms. True is on trial in Italy on charges of trafficking in artifacts looted from Italian soil to augment the Getty's collection. Her lawyers have maintained her innocence.

George Gligoris, who leads a Greek police unit that investigates antiquities smuggling, said that officers raided a villa in an Athens suburb owned by the Papadimitriou family on April 12. Hours later, he said, the police began swarming over the villa in Skhoinousa. So far, he said, investigators have uncovered 98 artifacts, none of them previously declared to the authorities.

"The size of the cache is enormous," he said in a telephone interview. "We may have to dig in other parts of the island to see where this takes us."

Efforts to reach Ms. Papadimitriou in London on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Mr. Gligoris said that investigators were conferring with experts in classical antiquities to determine the date and origin of the objects found at the villa.

Drosos Bougoudis, Mr. Gligoris's supervisor, said police investigators were still searching the Skhoinousa estate on Tuesday and might expand their hunt to the surrounding area.

From Peru to Greece, archaeological source countries have recently stepped up their campaigns to prevent looting of ancient sites and lay claim to looted treasures in major museum collections. In February the Italian government negotiated an accord with the Metropolitan Museum of Art that provides for the return of 21 precious artifacts that Italy asserts were looted in recent decades from Italian soil.

Mr. Gligoris said that he and a prominent Greek prosecutor, Yannis Diotis, traveled to Rome in January to confer with Italian prosecutors regarding their continuing case against Ms. True, who is on trial in Rome with the American dealer Robert Hecht. He declined to give details on what the Greeks learned during their visit. But a senior police official involved in the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said the Italians provided Polaroid images of ancient works and other evidence that ultimately led to the raids in Greece, beginning with the one on Ms. True's Paros home.

"It was on the basis of these pictures, plus testimony from some of True's accomplices, that we decided to proceed with the raids," the senior police official said. He said he expected his colleagues to subpoena several individuals for questioning, including Ms. True.

"We know that True visited the Skhoinousa villa and held close relations with its owners," the official said, adding, "Holiday snapshots of Ms. True with Michailidis and Papadimitriou on Skhoinousa were all over her villa."

Council Restores Getty Membership

LOS ANGELES, April 18 (AP) — Saying that it has seen "positive and significant reforms," the Council on Foundations has restored the J. Paul Getty Trust to full membership status.

The council, a Washington-based organization of more than 2,000 grant-making groups, had placed the trust on probation in December, saying it was looking into charges against the trust related to the sale of property, the use of trust assets for personal benefit, excessive travel and entertainment expenses and inappropriate compensation for the trust's chief executive, Barry Munitz, who resigned in February.

"We appreciate the cooperation and constructive dialogue between our organizations over the past few months and respect the hard work they've done to provide the information we requested," the council's president, Steve Gunderson, said in a statement on Monday. In addition to the museum, the $7 billion trust oversees divisions of art conservation, research and philanthropy.

Carol Vogel and Randy Kennedy contributed reporting from New York for this article.
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