The former president of the Louvre Museum in Paris has been accused of plotting to hide the origins of archeological treasures that may have been removed from Egypt during the Arab Spring uprisings, in a case that shocked the world of antiquities.
Jean-Luc Martinez was charged this week after being picked up by police for questioning, a French judicial source told AFP. Martinez ran the Louvre in Paris, the most visited museum in the world, from 2013-21.
Martinez, who resigned as president of the Louvre last year, serves as ambassador for international heritage co-operation. The case threatens to embarrass the French Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Two French experts in Egyptian art were also questioned this week, but were released without charge.
The case opened in July 2018, two years after the Abu Dhabi Louvre bought a rare pink granite column depicting Pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other ancient works for 8 million euros (,8 6.8 million).
Martinez was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and “concealment of the origins of works obtained through criminal liability,” a court source told AFP. A reference to Le Canard enchaîné The research weekly The Chained Duck said this could include turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces, a scam believed to involve several other art experts.
Martinez was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and “concealment of the origins of works obtained through criminal liability,” a court source told AFP.
Martinez had previously told The Art Newspaper that he denied any wrongdoing.
The German-Lebanese gallery owner who mediated the sale was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning.
French investigators suspect hundreds of items were looted during the Arab Spring protests that swept through several Middle Eastern countries in the early 2010s. , nor did they examine carefully enough possible inconsistencies in the certificates of origin of the works.
Many countries are believed to have been affected by the looting of artifacts, such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Another valuable Egyptian work, the gilded coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, which was purchased from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017, has been the focus of a separate investigation by New York prosecutors. The Met then said that it had fallen victim to false statements and forged documents and that the coffin would be returned to Egypt.