Court upholds charges against ex-Louvre chief in art trafficking case

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Court upholds charges against ex-Louvre chief in art trafficking case
Jean-Luc Martinez, who led the Louvre from 2013 to 2021, outside the museum in Paris on June 23, 2020. Martinez is fighting charges of complicity in fraud and money laundering, part of an inquiry into the illegal sale of Egyptian artifacts. (Julien Mignot/The New York Times)

by Aurelien Breeden

PARIS.- The Paris appeals court upheld charges of complicity in fraud and money laundering against the former president of the Louvre on Friday, in a case involving trafficked Egyptian artifacts that shocked the art world when it embroiled the man who used to lead France’s most famous museum.

Jean-Luc Martinez, 58, who was president and director of the Louvre from 2013-21, was charged in May as part of a yearslong inquiry by French police into a network of looters, traffickers and antiquities experts believed to be selling looted relics to museums and art galleries.

Martinez’s lawyers had applied to have the charges dismissed in hopes of removing him from the complex and tortuous case, in which other archaeology experts, and art dealers, are also charged. While the investigation continues, Martinez, who is now France’s official ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage issues, has been relieved of duties related to illegal art trafficking.

Martinez, who has always denied wrongdoing and has not been accused of personally enriching himself, will appeal Friday’s ruling, according to François Artuphel, his lawyer.

Authorities in France have provided few public details about the case against Martinez, which was a stunning turn in a career that he had most recently devoted to the protection of antiquities in conflict zones.

But the French news media has reported that police were trying to determine whether Martinez, a trained archaeologist, had looked the other way or been negligent in handling certificates of provenance for a handful of Egyptian relics, which included fake export licenses to sell looted antiquities.

The relics, including a stone slab depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamen, were acquired for millions of euros under Martinez’s leadership for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum that opened in 2017 as a collaboration between France and the United Arab Emirates and that used the Louvre brand and expertise.

Artuphel said in a statement that the court had ignored “many factual and legal incoherencies” in the case against his client. At a hearing in November, he argued that Martinez had only been alerted to doubts about the Tutankhamen artifact in 2019, three years after it was purchased, and that Martinez was not directly involved in the details of individual acquisitions.

“We have no doubt that the rest of the procedure will remedy this injustice,” Artuphel said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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