The Louvre Plans to Take Civil Legal Action in the Antiquities Smuggling Investigation That Has Ensnared Its Former Director

The Louvre also says it stands by its partnership with the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The Louvre Museum (2023). Photo by Mike Hewitt / Getty Images.

The Louvre plans to take legal action in the headline-making criminal investigation of an alleged smuggling ring that has ensnared its former director, Jean-Luc Martinez.

Martinez was charged on last week with complicity in organized fraud and money laundering in connection with objects that were allegedly smuggled out of Egypt and purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“Due to the recent legal proceedings regarding the purchase of Egyptian antiquities by Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Musée du Louvre has decided to bring a civil action before the jurisdiction in charge,” the Louvre said in a statement released on Monday evening. 

The Paris museum has so far remained vague about exactly who it intends to take action against, and has not responded to requests for further comment. The announcement marks the first official public statement from the museum since news about the indictment broke last week. 

“The Musée du Louvre would like to emphasize the utmost, unwavering and ongoing commitment of its scientific experts in the struggle against illicit artwork trafficking,” the statement continued. “The work accomplished at both a national and an international level remains a priority in order to thwart ever more active and increasingly organized crime.”

All of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisitions are approved by a joint commission co-chaired by the director of the Paris museum. Martinez was director of the Musée du Louvre between 2013 and 2021. 

“Our client strongly denies the allegations and has no further comments at this stage,” Martinez’s lawyers Jacqueline Laffont and François Artuphel told Artnet News.

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. Some of those objects, authorities say, were later acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. 

Kunicki was arrested and charged with fraud and money laundering in June 2020, around the same time that the Paris headquarters for the Emirati museum were raided by police. Kunicki, who was released under judicial supervision and has denied any wrongdoing, previously sold a gold sarcophagus worth €3.5 million to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was later seized by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and repatriated to Egypt in 2017. 

Dib has been in custody since March, charged with gang fraud and money laundering. He also denied any wrongdoing in an earlier interview with Art Newspaper.

Representatives for the Louvre Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“These current events do not call into question the strong and trustful partnership between the Musée du Louvre and Louvre Abu Dhabi,” the Louvre’s statement continued. “At the heart of this extremely dynamic part of the world, the Musée du Louvre and Louvre’s involvement, through its teams and collections, bears witness to the outreach and appeal of French cultural institutions.”

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