Former Louvre director charged over suspected antiquities trafficking ring

·2 min read

The former head of Paris's Louvre Museum, Jean-Luc Martinez, has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of Egyptian archeological treasures that police suspect were smuggled out of the country during the Arab Spring uprisings.

Judicial sources said Martinez was charged on Wednesday after being taken in for questioning by the French office against art trafficking (OCBC), along with two prominent French Egyptologists.

The two specialists – the head of the Egyptian department of the Louvre, Vincent Rondot, and renowned Egyptologist Olivier Perdu – have been released without charge.

The case was opened in July 2018, two years after the Louvre's branch in Abu Dhabi bought a rare pink granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other historic works for eight million euros.

Martinez, who ran the Paris Louvre from 2013 to 2021, is accused of turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces – a fraud thought to involve several other art experts, according to the satirical Canard Enchainé investigative weekly.

He has been charged with complicity in fraud and "concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement", the judicial source said.

Hundreds of pieces

The move comes after Roben Dib, the German-Lebanese gallery owner who brokered the sale, was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning in the case.

French investigators suspect that hundreds of artefacts were pillaged during the Arab Spring protests that engulfed several Middle Eastern countries in the early 2010s, and then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership.

The Canard Enchainé reported that some of the same French experts who certified the Tutankhamun stele also certified another prized Egyptian work, the gilded coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, that was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

Following an inquiry by New York prosecutors, the Met said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation, and said the coffin would be returned to Egypt.

(with AFP)

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