An Art Dealer Who Allegedly Headed a Trafficking Ring That Sold Egyptian Antiquities to the Louvre and the Met Has Been Arrested
Serop Simonian has been extradited from Hamburg to Paris and put in pre-trial detention.
An octogenarian art dealer has been arrested on suspicion of leading a illegal trafficking ring that is the subject of a global investigation implicating powerful institutions, including the Louvre and the Met. Serop Simonian has been charged with trafficking and laundering but denies any wrongdoing.
The investigation concerns allegedly trafficked antiquities that were sold to the Met in New York and the Louvre Abu Dhabi between 2014 and 2017. Multiple Paris-based dealers have been investigated, including Christophe Kunicki and Richard Semper, who both confessed to forging provenance documents.
Two museum professionals, Jean-Luc Martinez, former director of the Louvre from 2013 until 2021, and Jean-François Charnier, curator and scientific director at Agence France Muséums, have also been embroiled in the affair. Earlier this year, French judges refused to drop charges against Martinez and Charnier of “complicity” and “facilitating” the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition of allegedly trafficked goods. The Louvre is seeking to be named a civil party in the case against its former director.
Simonian is believed to have been the source of the allegedly trafficked antiquities, which were sold to the Met and Louvre Abu Dhabi for around €60 million ($63 million). He has claimed that these artifacts belonged to his family and left Egypt in the 1970s, when it would have been legal for them to do so, according to The Art Newspaper.
Born in Cairo in 1942, Simonian is a naturalized German citizen who comes from a family of antiquities dealers based in Hamburg. After a European warrant was issued for his arrest, police captured Simonian in Germany in September. He has since been extradited to Paris and put in pre-trial detention. Another of his alleged collaborators, Roben Dib, who ran Simonian’s Hamburg-based Dionysos gallery and has also been charged with falsifying documents, was detained in Paris last year but maintains his innocence.
The ancient Egyptian artifacts in question include a golden sarcophagus of priest Nedjemankh sold to the Met in 2017 for €3.5 million ($3.7 million). It was found to have been looted during the Arab Spring in 2011 and given a fake export license from 1971. The treasure was confiscated by Manhattan District Attorney’s office along with a Fayum mummy portrait and three more precious pieces. These items have been returned to Egypt.
Simonian is also linked to at least two allegedly trafficked objects that were sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2014 and 2015 via Agence France Muséums. These are a 225–50 B.C.E. portrait of a man and another sarcophagus of Princess Henouttaouy.
The investigation has found that Simonian legitimized these allegedly trafficked goods by getting three German museums to store them in their warehouses for long periods. In exchange, the institutions were permitted to exhibit the antiquities, further increasing their value. These museums are the Roemer & Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim; the Egyptian Museum at the University of Bonn; and the University Institute in Trier. A fourth museum declined to work with Simonian due to a lack of reliable provenance documents.
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