According to a French court source, the former president of the Louvre museum in Paris has been accused of attempting to conceal the origin of Egyptian archaeological masterpieces that investigators believe were smuggled out of the country during the Arab Spring upheavals.
In 2019, tourists form a line outside the Pyramid before entering the Louvre museum in Paris.
Another source close to the investigation told AFP that Jean-Luc Martinez was charged Wednesday after being taken in for interrogation along with two French specialists in Egyptian art who were not accused.
Before the Covid-19 epidemic, the Louvre, which is controlled by the French government, was the world’s most visited museum, with over 10 million visitors per year, and it houses some of Western civilization’s most recognized cultural legacy.
When approached by AFP, the institution declined to comment.
The case was initiated by French authorities in July 2018, two years after the Louvre branch in Abu Dhabi paid eight million euros ($8.5 million) for a rare pink granite stele representing the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other historic pieces.
According to the French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine, Martinez, who managed the Paris Louvre from 2013 to 2021, is accused of turning a blind eye to phony certificates of provenance for the artifacts, a fraud thought to implicate several other art experts.
According to the judicial authority, he has been accused of fraud and “concealing the origin of fraudulently obtained works by fake endorsement.”
Martinez is presently the ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage for the French foreign ministry, with an emphasis on combating art trafficking.
“Jean-Luc Martinez vigorously challenges his indictment in this matter,” his lawyers said in a statement to AFP.
Looting during the Arab Spring
“For the time being, he will reserve his declarations for the judiciary,” they stated, “and has no doubt that his good faith will be confirmed.”
Hundreds of artifacts were allegedly looted from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during the Arab Spring riots in the early 2010s, according to French authorities.
They believe the antiquities were subsequently sold to galleries and museums that did not inquire about past ownership.
Martinez’s accusation comes after the sale was mediated by Robin Dib, a German-Lebanese gallery owner who was arrested in Hamburg in March and deported to Paris for questioning.
Canard Enchaine described Marc Gabolde, a French Egyptologist, as saying that he contacted Louvre officials with doubts regarding the Tutankhamun stele but received no reaction.
The inquiry’s launch in 2018 roiled the Paris art market, which is a significant center for artifacts from Middle Eastern civilizations.
During the Arab Spring, famed Paris archaeologist Christophe Kunicki and trader Richard Semper were charged with fraud for falsely certifying plundered works from many nations.
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They also assisted with the certification of another prized Egyptian piece, the priest Nedjemankh’s gilded sarcophagus, which was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.
Habib Tawadros, an Egyptian art dealer, was also involved in both questionable deals, according to Gabolde.
After prosecutors in New York established that the sarcophagus had been stolen during the 2011 uprisings against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Met claimed it had been the victim of false allegations and forged documents and returned the coffin to Egypt.