Criminal charges against the French curator Jean-François Charnier, for having “facilitated the sales” of allegedly looted Egyptian antiquities to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, are being dropped following a decision of the highest French court. However, the court has rejected the appeal of the former director of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, upholding his indictment with “complicity in gang fraud”.
Both men were indicted in 2022 in relation to the Egyptian antiquities trafficking investigation which has implicated a number of dealers and leading art institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The charges against Martinez and Charnier were upheld by a chamber of the Paris court of appeal in February.
On Tuesday (14 November), the French high court decided that proper procedure had not been followed when Charnier, a former senior curator of the France Muséums consultancy in charge of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was placed in custody in July 2022. The court found the judge had not been duly informed by investigators beforehand of the motives for his arrest. His custody and subsequent indictment should therefore have been annulled by the appeals court, which will now have to review the case. However, the ruling does not prevent the judge from interviewing Charnier again.
Martinez’s arrest in May 2022 on charges relating to his role as chairman of the scientific council that supervised Abu Dhabi’s acquisitions sent shock waves through the art world. He served as president-director of the Louvre in Paris from 2013 to 2021.
Both men have denied any wrongdoing, saying that doubts over the provenance of the Egyptian antiquities sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi for a total of €40m by French dealer Christophe Kunicki were only raised in 2019, years after their purchase by the Emirati museum.
The antiquities trafficking investigation was launched when the Metropolitan Museum of Art had to return to Egypt a golden sarcophagus it had bought from Kunicki. The German dealer Serop Simonian, suspected to be the source of these antiquities, was arrested in Hamburg and transferred to France, where he was jailed on 15 September on charges of gang fraud and laundering.