Louvre museum's ex-president charged in art trafficking case

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Jean-Luc Martinez pictured outside the Louvre museum's glass pyramid in Paris, France (6 July 2020)Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Jean-Luc Martinez was president of the Louvre from 2013 until last year

The former head of the Louvre museum in Paris has been charged in connection with a wide-ranging inquiry into the trafficking of ancient objects from the Middle East, judicial sources say.

French investigators allege Jean-Luc Martinez facilitated the transfer of the objects to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

They reportedly include a granite stele inscribed with the seal of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

Mr Martinez denies the charges and insists that he acted in good faith.

There was no immediate comment from the Paris Louvre, while the Louvre Abu Dhabi said it was unable to comment on the specifics of the case because of the French investigation.

It added: "Louvre Abu Dhabi applies a strict international protocol for artworks entering the collection, as outlined in the intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France, signed in 2007.

"This protocol is strictly aligned with the 1970 Unesco Convention [against the illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts] and follows the most stringent standards of major museums in the world."

Mr Martinez was president of the Louvre from 2013 until he stepped down last summer. Since then, he has been France's ambassador for international co-operation on heritage - a role that involves him helping to combat art trafficking.

On Thursday, a French judicial source told the BBC that he had been charged with "complicity in fraud" and "concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement".

The weekly newspaper, Le Canard enchainé, which broke the story, said investigators were trying to establish whether Mr Martinez "closed his eyes" to fake provenance certificates for a handful of Egyptian antiquities, bought by the Louvre in Abu Dhabi in 2016, for millions of euros.

Among the items, the paper said, was the Tutankhamun stele.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi lists as part of its collection a rose-coloured granite stele from about 1327BC, on which the boy pharaoh is shown giving offerings to the god Osiris and also receiving offerings from a high-ranking official.

A prominent French Egyptologist who queried the provenance of the stele in 2018, Marc Gabolde, told Le Canard enchainé that his questions to the Louvre had remained unanswered.

Lawyers for Mr Martinez said he disputed his questioning in the case "with the greatest firmness", and that he had "no doubt that his good faith will be established".

France's AFP news agency reports that he was taken in for questioning along with two French specialists in Egyptian art, who were not charged.

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