Friday, January 20, 2012

Italian Show Trials

Italian Justice on Trial: Bob Hecht Vindicated?

by Peter Tompa

Well, that is one way this sorry tale can be spun:

After all the headlines, Bob Hecht, the alleged middleman at the center of an international conspiracy to launder looted art, has been freed because the statute of limitations has run under Italian law.

Paolo Ferri, Hecht's prosecutor, points the fingers at the "system." but presumably Ferri was responsible for moving the case forward, and with a little less show boating, perhaps that might have actually happened within the allotted time.

In any event, without a conviction in such a high profile case, perhaps Hecht can feel vindicated, at least to some extent.

The Italian show trial did convince US Museums to repatriate significant pieces to Italy. I wonder though, whether any have any nagging doubts about that now, at least with respect to some pieces. Also, the trial likely helped convince the AAMD and others to adopt a 1970 provenance rule. The foolishness of that decision is only now being felt, but nagging doubts about that one will grow too as fewer and fewer items become available for accession under these rules.




The Italian "show trials," beginning with the Getty Museum case, were in reality political maneuvers designed to create favorable publicity that would delude the Italian public into believing that Italy was "doing something" to protect its cultural heritage.

As such they were hugely successful. They generated a great deal of publicity and masked the true state of Italy's neglect in conserving and protecting the antiquities and monuments in State custody. Eventually, however, such publicity stunts will be forgotten, whereas the neglect endures and in Italy's case, worsens.

Meanwhile a very significant injustice was done to American museums and to individuals such as the Getty Museum's director and Hecht, who had solid cases prepared to demonstrate their innocence, but were never given an opportunity to present them in court; the prosecution abandoned these cases as soon as their publicity value was exploited.

In this respect Italy stands guilty of conducting media-circus "show trials," just as unfair and dishonest as those of the Stalinist regime during its purges. While the accused still live, their careers were murdered.


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