The New York Times reports today that Italy is carrying out an investigation into J. Michael Padget, Princeton University Museum of Art antiquities curator. Padget is being investigated for "illegal export and laundering” of Italian archaeological objects. Also included in the investigation are Edoardo Almagià, former New York antiquities dealer, and two co-defendants that the NYT has not named at this time.
A 14-page legal document from Rome identifies nearly two dozen archeological objects that the Italians argue were looted from Italy. The document reports that the pieces were transferred from Almagià to Padget and the Princeton Museum. Padget has responded to the charges, stating that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. Almagià, a Princeton alum, has called the case "absolutely ridiculous."
The news has come as a surprise to some in light of recent agreements between a number of US museums and the Italian governments, which were aimed at resolving antiquities disputes. In October 2007, Princeton agreed to turn over eight antiquities in exchange for loans of significant cultural importance. This agreement also allowed for "Princeton students will be granted unprecedented access to excavation sites managed by the Italian ministry for the purposes of archaeological study and research," according to the 2007 Princeton news story.
Hugh Eakin of the NYT explains that the Princeton-Italy agreement was signed during the trial of former Getty curator Marion True, who was charged in an Italian court of having ties to two antiquities dealers who trafficked in illicit antiquities. Eakin writes, Though the agreements by Princeton and other museums did not explicitly rule out future Italian investigations of museum dealings, they were widely seen as ending the threat of further legal action against American museum staff members."
We will follow this case as it develops.