Former Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez Has Been Charged With Money Laundering Over Ties to Alleged Antiquities Trafficking Ring

Authorities are reportedly investigating five antiquities purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Louvre museum President Jean-Luc Martinez delivers a speech durning the opening ceremony of an exhibition of 50 artworks from the Louvre at the National Museum in central Tehran. Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images.

Jean-Luc Martinez, the former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, has reportedly been charged by a French court with complicity in organized fraud and money laundering in connection to objects that were allegedly smuggled out from Egypt and purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. 

After being detained and interviewed over three days by the French law enforcement agency tasked with policing the trafficking of illicit cultural goods, known as the OCBC, Martinez was formally indicted on Wednesday, according to the Art Newspaper.

Martinez, who served as director of the Louvre from 2013 to 2021, has been released by authorities but is under judicial supervision, according to French media reports. Artnet News was unable to reach Martinez for comment, but he had previously denied any wrongdoing to the Art Newspaper

Alongside Martinez, the Louvre’s head of the Egyptian department, Vincent Rondot, and Olivier Perdu, an Egyptologist, were also detained for questioning but were released without charges, AP reports. Perdu told The Art Newspaper that he had only been questioned because the Revue d’Egyptologie, which he edits on behalf of the French Egyptologists’ Society, “published a scientific paper in 2019 on the historical importance of a stele which was sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.”

French media credit the satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné with first reporting on the investigation, saying authorities are trying to find out of Martinez turned a blind eye to false certificates of origin for five Egyptian antiquities acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi “for several tens of millions of euros.” Among them is a pink granite stele inscribed with the name of Tutankhamun which is currently on display in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, according to Le Monde.

Founded in 2007, the Louvre Abu Dhabi project has been scrutinized in the past over its acquisitions, all of which require approval from a joint commission co-chaired by the Louvre Paris director. Artnet News reached out to the Louvre in Paris (where there is a public holiday today), the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

The investigation appears to be connected the Parisian art dealer, Christophe Kunicki, and the German-Lebanese art dealer, Roben Dib, who authorities suspect of having produced false documents to “launder” hundreds of antiquities looted from the Near and Middle East, according to Le Monde.

Kunicki was also arrested and charged with fraud and money laundering in June 2020, around the same time that the Paris headquarters for the Louvre Abu Dhabi were raided by police and documents were seized by the OCBC. Kunicki, who was released under judicial supervision and has denied any wrongdoing, previously sold a gold sarcophagus worth €3.5 million to the Met which was later seized by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and repatriated to Egypt in 2017. 

Dib, who turned himself in to authorities, has been in custody since March, charged with gang fraud and money laundering. He also denied any wrong doing in an earlier interview with Art Newspaper

Le Canard enchaîné reported that French investigators are planning to travel to New York to exchange information with Matthew Bogdanos, the head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s antiquities trafficking division, who has been investigating the alleged smuggling ring since 2013. 

According to the Art Newspaper, citing a source close to the investigation, the case involving Martinez has been narrowed down to nine objects purchased by the Met and the Louvre Abu Dhabi from Kunicki and Dib for more than €50 million. 

Since Martinez stepped down as Louvre director last year, he has been serving as an ambassador for international cooperation in the field of cultural heritage. He has also been working on a report for French President Emmanuel Macron on the restitution of objects from national collections back to African countries.

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