Ex-Louvre director faces criminal charges
The former director of the Louvre Museum in Paris, Jean-Luc Martinez, has been charged with money laundering and complicity in “organized gang fraud,” which apparently involved the trafficking of archaeological objects taken out of Egypt during the unrest in the early 2010s.
Investigators believe that Martinez turned a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for five “criminally obtained” pieces which ended up in the Louvre’s Abu Dhabi branch, AFP reported, citing sources. The suspected fraud allegedly involved several art experts.
According to The Art Newspaper, Martinez, who headed the Louvre between 2013 and 2021, was detained earlier this week, along with the head of the museum’s Egyptian department, Vincent Rondot, and renowned Egyptologist Olivier Perdu.
Both Perdu and Rondot were later released without charges. Martinez, who is now an ambassador for international cooperation in the field of heritage, was placed under judicial supervision and charged on Wednesday in relation to the ongoing antiquities trafficking investigation.
Martinez denies any wrongdoing, according to his lawyers.
“For now, he reserves his statements for the courts and has no doubt that his good faith will be established,” his lawyers, Jacqueline Laffont and François Artuphel, told AFP.
The case was opened in 2018, two years after the Louvre Abu Dhabi purchased five ancient Egyptian artifacts, including a rare pink granite stele of Tutankhamun, for several million euros. Since then, the investigation has seen three people detained and charged: Two experts in Mediterranean archeology, Christophe Kunicki and Richard Semper, as well as an owner of a gallery in Hamburg, Roben Dib, who brokered the sale of the artifacts. Dib was extradited to France for questioning.
The Paris Louvre is yet to comment on the case, but Louvre Abu Dhabi said that it “applies a strict international protocol for artworks entering the collection, as outlined in the intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France, signed in 2007.”
“This protocol is strictly aligned with the 1970 UNESCO Convention [against the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts] and follows the most stringent standards of major museums in the world,” the museum said in a statement, as quoted by the BBC.
French investigators reportedly believe that, during the Arab Spring uprisings, artifacts from several countries, including Libya, Yemen, Syria, as well as Egypt, were illegally removed. Hundreds of artifacts were thought to have been sold to galleries and museums around the world, which apparently did not give much thought to questions of origins.
The Arab Spring protests, riots, and armed rebellions which spread across many Arab countries in the early 2010s resulted in several long-standing rulers being toppled, including then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The unrest in several countries turned into full-scale civil wars and even international conflicts, some of which are ongoing, as is the case in Yemen.