Jean-Luc Martinez is suspected of having smuggled millions of dollars worth of stolen art, some of which is believed to have ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
An investigation into a possible human trafficking of large quantities of Middle Eastern antiquities underwent dramatic changes earlier this week in Paris, when Jean-Luc Martinez, the former director of the Louvre, was arrested by French police on Monday morning.
According to a source close to the investigation, Martinez, head of the Egyptian department of the Louvre, Vincent Rondot, and Olivier Perdu, a well-known Egyptian scientist, were interviewed by the French Institute for Trafficking in Human Beings (OCBC). On Tuesday night, Perda was released without charge. He said he had only been questioned because the Revue d’Egyptologie, which he runs for the French Egyptological Society, “wrote an academic paper in 2019 on the historical significance of a star that was sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. “I was completely cleansed of all wrongdoing,” he said.
Martinez was still in custody at the time of writing, although he had not been charged with any crime. A government official confirmed the facts, but the Louvre and the government would not respond until made public. Martinez has previously said he is not guilty of any offense.
The news comes in the wake of the arrest in Paris of Roben Dib, a German-Lebanese trader who has been in custody since March on suspicion of criminal activity and money laundering. When questioned in Hamburg two years ago, he denied all allegations of art smuggling.
French judge Jean-Michel Gentil accused Paris expert and trader Christophe Kunicki of criminal conspiracy, gang fraud and money laundering in June 2020. At that time, OCBC raided the offices of the French Institute for the Louvre Abu Dhabi in Paris and confiscated documents. According to the satirical newspaper Canard enchaîné, French investigators want to go to New York to exchange information with Matthew Bogdanos, the director of the district prosecutor’s department’s antiquities department, who has been investigating human trafficking since 2013.
Kunicki, who previously pleaded not guilty when questioned by The Art Newspaper, sold a gold chest to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 3.5 million euros in 2017, after which the district prosecutor seized it and returned it to Egypt. According to a source close to the investigation, criminal investigations in France and the United States have now focused on an additional nine items purchased by Kunicki and Dib for more than € 50 million from Metropolitan and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. A representative of the New York Museum declined to comment on the details, but said that “staff have been deceived by this criminal conspiracy and the museum has been completely helpful through this investigation and will continue to do so.
None of these artefacts were purchased from the Louvre Museum in Paris. However, since the start of the project in 2007, all acquisitions made by the Emirati Museum with the support of French experts have had to be approved by a joint committee chaired by the Louvre. Martinez was the director of the Louvre from 2013 to 2021. Since then, he has been appointed Special Ambassador of International Cultural Cooperation and is currently conducting research on refunds to African countries.
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