Getty Museum agrees to return 'stolen' antiquities

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Greece has won round one in its battle with one of the world's richest museums over the return of priceless antiquities it says were taken out of the country illegally. Speaking in Athens yesterday, Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, agreed to recommend the return of at least two of four contested items from its collection.

The decision, after months of intense pressure from Greek and Italian authorities, was seen as an attempt on the part of the museum to close an acutely embarrassing chapter, and ward off the threat of a costly legal action.

Mr Brand, who arrived in Athens with a team of the museum's legal experts, appeared determined to settle the issue as quickly as possible: "The talks are ongoing and representatives will be appointed to seek resolution of the matter in the next two to three months," Mr Brand said.

The Getty, among the world's richest art institutions, has been embroiled in an international art smuggling scandal since Italian authorities charged its former chief antiquities curator Marion True with conspiring with dealers to traffic in stolen antiquities. Ms True resigned in October 2005 after 20 years with the Getty and is on trial in Rome. The former curator denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Brand did not say which items would be returned to Greece but, according to reports, they include a 4th-century BC gold funerary wreath, purchased by Ms True in 1993, and a votive relief, bought in 1995 by J Paul Getty himself.

Ms True faces an inquiry in Greece after her villa on Paros was raided and investigators found dozens of unregistered antiquities. Another raid at a shipping magnate's villa on a nearby islet produced 300 unregistered objects.