The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday ruled in favour of Italy’s long-standing demand that the Getty Villa Museum in the United States return an ancient Greek statue which Rome claims was smuggled out of the country decades ago.

The bronze, life-size statue known as the “Victorious Youth” is of a naked young man crowning himself with a wreath. It was made by Greek sculptor Lysippos between 300 and 100 BC and discovered in 1964 by a fisherman in the Adriatic Sea, off the central Italian town of Pedaso.

In its decision, the ECHR said a 2019 confiscation order issued by Italy’s highest court, aimed at recovering the piece, was reasonable and “proportionate to the aim of ensuring the return of an object that was part of Italy’s cultural heritage”.

After being sold several times after its discovery, it was bought in 1977 in Munich by the Getty Trust for $3.95 million. It is now on display at the Getty Villa Museum, in Malibu, California, which showcases Greek and Roman antiquities.

Italy always believed it was smuggled out of the country and acquired illegally and has made several attempts to recover the statue, including through international police authorities and diplomacy.

ECHR said Italian authorities had demonstrated that the statue was part of the country’s cultural heritage and that the Getty Trust “had disregarded the requirements of the law, at the very least negligently, or perhaps in bad faith” by buying the piece without proof of its legitimate provenance.

However, the ruling is not binding on the United States, which is not party to the European Convention of Human rights which the ECHR polices.

The Getty Villa Museum will consider requesting a review before the ECHR, a statement emailed to Reuters said, adding that it would “continue to defend its possession of the statue in all relevant courts.”

“Getty’s nearly fifty-year public possession of an artwork that was neither created by an Italian artist nor found within the Italian territory” complies with American and international law, it said.

The ECHR’s decision can be appealed by both sides within the next three months, though only a small proportion of cases are accepted.

Rome’s Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the European Court had unequivocally recognised the rights of the Italian state.

He added in a statement that Italy had interrupted relations with cultural bodies that did not respect confiscation orders and since becoming minister in October 2022, “hundreds” of pieces had been recouped from the United States and 750 from Britain.