The former president of the Louvre museum in Paris has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of archaeological treasures that may have been taken out of Egypt during the Arab spring uprisings, in a case that has shocked the world of antiquities.
Jean-Luc Martinez was charged this week after he was taken in by police for questioning, a French judicial source told Agence France-Presse. Martinez ran the Paris Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, from 2013-21.
Martinez, who stepped down as the Louvre’s president last year, serves as an ambassador for international cooperation in the field of heritage. The case threatens to embarrass the French culture ministry and ministry for foreign affairs.
Two French specialists in Egyptian art were also questioned this week but released without charge.
The case was opened in July 2018, two years after the Louvre Abu Dhabi bought a rare pink granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other ancient works for €8m (£6.8m).
Martinez has been charged with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement”, a judicial source confirmed to AFP. A report in Le Canard enchaîné (the Chained Duck) investigative weekly said this could have involved turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces, a fraud thought to involve several other art experts.
Martinez has been charged with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement”, a judicial source confirmed to AFP.
Martinez previously told The Art Newspaper that he denies any wrongdoing.
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. These were then believed to have been sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership, nor look closely enough at potential incoherences in the works’ certificates of origin.
Several countries are thought to have been affected by artefacts being pillaged, including Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Another prized Egyptian work, the gilded coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, which was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017, was at the centre of a separate inquiry by New York prosecutors. Afterwards the Met said it had been the victim of false statements and fake documentation, and that the coffin would be returned to Egypt.