An adviser to billionaire J. Paul Getty had concerns about whether an ancient bronze statue destined for Getty's world-famous museum had been properly removed from Italy, it was reported Thursday.
A 1976 letter from now-deceased Getty adviser Bernard Ashmole, an Oxford archaeologist, said museum "exploits" to obtain the ancient Greek work "Victorious Youth" were a "crime." However, the letter cited by the Los Angeles Times makes no specific accusations.
The Italian government has asked a judge there to order the statue seized.
Maurizio Fiorilli, an attorney representing the Italian government, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he hadn't seen the letter, but it could be important to the case.
Fiorilli said he might mention the document in his closing argument Friday in the east coast city of Pesaro. A verdict is expected by the end of the month.
Getty museum attorney Stephen Clark said the sculpture was purchased in good faith in 1977 for $4 million.
Recently, Clark told the judge in Italy that he had reviewed museum files and found no evidence that officials knew the statue was improperly obtained.
"I wouldn't draw the conclusion that this (letter) acknowledges there was some crime," Clark, the Getty's general counsel, told the Times. "Italy has no legal foundation for a claim."
Ashmole wrote to then-museum director Stephen Garrett that the statue was mentioned in a British television show called "The Plunderers."
The museum's "exploits over the bronze statue were also given, but again in such a way as to minimize the crime," Ashmole wrote.
Garrett told the newspaper he did not recall what "crime" Ashmole was referring to in the letter.
The museum filed documents several years ago arguing that Italy has no claim to the piece because it originally was Greek and was found in international waters.
The Getty is one of several museums that in recent years have returned Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts that the Italian government suspected were looted and smuggled from the country.
In 2007 the Getty, without admitting any wrongdoing, agreed to return 40 ancient treasures in exchange for the long-term loan of other artifacts.
That didn't include the life-sized bronze "Victorious Youth," also called the "Athlete of Fano." The Greek masterpiece was sculpted between 300 B.C. and 100 B.C. and later carried away by Roman soldiers, but the boat carrying it apparently sank.
The artist is unknown but some scholars believe it was Lysippos, Alexander the Great's personal sculptor.
The statue was found in the nets of Italian fishermen trawling in international waters in 1964. It allegedly was buried in an Italian cabbage patch and hidden in a priest's bathtub before it was taken out of Italy.
© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.