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CULTURE

Former Louvre museum director charged in art trafficking case

The former president of the Louvre museum in Paris has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of Egyptian archaeological treasures that investigators suspect were spirited out of the country during the Arab Spring uprisings, a French judicial source said Thursday.

Former Louvre museum director charged in art trafficking case
Tourists queue outside the Pyramid prior entering the Louvre museum in Paris in 2019. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

Jean-Luc Martinez was charged Wednesday after being taken in for questioning along with two French specialists in Egyptian art, who were not charged, another source close to the inquiry told AFP.

The Louvre, which is owned by the French state, is the world’s most visited museum with around 10 million visitors a year before the Covid-19 pandemic and is home to some of Western civilization’s most celebrated cultural heritage.

The museum declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

French investigators opened the case 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 ($8.5 million).

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 French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine.

He has been charged with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement,” according to the judicial source.

Martinez is currently the French foreign ministry’s ambassador in charge of international cooperation on cultural heritage, which focuses in particular on fighting art trafficking.

“Jean-Luc Martinez contests in the strongest way his indictment in this case,” his lawyers told AFP in a statement.

Arab Spring looting

“For now, he will reserve his declarations for the judiciary, and has no doubt that his good faith will be established,” they said.

French investigators suspect that hundreds of artefacts were pillaged from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during protests in the early 2010s that became known as the Arab Spring.

They suspect the artefacts were then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership.

Martinez’s indictment comes after the German-Lebanese gallery owner who brokered the sale, Robin Dib, was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning.

Marc Gabolde, a French Egyptologist, was quoted by Canard Enchaine as saying that he informed Louvre officials about suspicions related to the Tutankhamun stele but received no response.

The opening of the inquiry in 2018 roiled the Paris art market, a major hub for antiquities from Middle Eastern civilisations.

In June 2020, prominent Paris archaeology expert Christophe Kunicki and dealer Richard Semper were charged with fraud for false certification of looted works from several countries during the Arab Spring.

They also had a role in certifying another prized Egyptian work, the gilded sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh that was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

Gabolde said an Egyptian art dealer, Habib Tawadros, was also involved in both suspect deals.

After New York prosecutors determined that the sarcophagus had been stolen during the revolts against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Met said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation, and returned the coffin to Egypt.

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CRIME

French police launch new service to keep empty homes secure

Leaving your property empty puts it at risk of burglars or squatters and this is a particular worry for second-home owners, whose homes are often vacant for prolonged periods.

French police launch new service to keep empty homes secure

French police run a scheme called Opération Tranquillité Vacances which involves householders telling their local police that they will be away, so they can keep an eye on the property.

The scheme has run in various forms since 1974, but now an online platform has been set up allowing property owners to make their declaration in just a few clicks.

It’s largely targeted at French people who are going away over the summer and leaving their homes empty, but it’s not limited to French nationals and can be used all year around.

Under the scheme, householders and businesses can ask their local gendarmes to keep a watch over their properties while they are away for a period of up to three months.

READ ALSO How to get rid of squatters from your French property

Police and gendarmes patrols visit houses on their list at various times during the day or night, checking shutters, gates, and back gardens to make sure all is as it should be – and to act as a deterrent to any criminal groups checking the area.

The new online service is not limited to French nationals or French residents, but it does require a FranceConnect account to operate, meaning that you need to be registered in at least one French database (eg the tax office, benefits office or in the health system).

The form can be used to cover both main residences and second homes (résidence secondaire) but there is a limit of three months at a time for the property to be vacant.

You can find the form HERE and it can be completed between three and 45 days before your departure.

You can also register in person at your nearest police station or gendarmerie unit. Take ID and proof of address, such as a recent utility bill, if you do it this way.

Summertime is high-season for criminals in France, who target homes that have been left vacant while their owners are away on holiday.

Opération Tranquillité Vacances was introduced in 1974 as a means to keep crime rates down during the summer holiday period. It was extended to include other school holidays in 2009, and is now available all year round.

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