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Former director of the Louvre under investigation for money laundering and organised fraud

26 May 2022

Jean-Luc Martinez, the former president of the Louvre, has been charged with money laundering and being complicit in organised fraud after being taken in for questioning on Monday by French police. Also being questioned, as first reported by Le Canard Enchainé, were the head of the Louvre’s Egyptian department, Vincent Rondot, and the Egyptologist Olivier Perdu. According to Le Monde, Rondot and Perdu were released without charge on Tuesday evening, while Martinez was indicted and released subject to a control order on Wednesday evening.

At the centre of the investigation by the Central Office for the Fight against Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Goods (OCBC) is a rose-granite stele depicting Tutankhamun. It was sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2016, along with four other ancient Egyptian artefacts, by the Parisian dealer Christophe Kunicki of Bergé & Associés and Roben Dib, a dealer in Hamburg, for eight million euros. After the launch of the Louvre Abu Dhabi project in 2007, Martinez (who was director of the Louvre in Paris from 2013 to 2021) was co-chair of the museum’s acquisitions committee.

In 2020, Kunicki was found guilty of forging documents that claimed that the gilded coffin of the priest Nedjemankh had left Egypt, legally, before 1971. In 2017, the coffin – which had in fact been smuggled out of the country during the Arab Spring – was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for €3.5m. It was later seized by the New York District Attorney’s Office and returned to Egypt. (A source close to the investigation has told the Art Newspaper that some nine other objects purchased by the Met and the Louvre Abu Dhabi from Kunicki and Dib are under investigation.)

The gilded ancient Egyptian coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017 and returned to Egypt in 2019.

The gilded ancient Egyptian coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Cairo in 2019, after being returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Investigators suspect Kunicki and Dib of similarly forging false certificates of origin for the five works sold to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. In March this year, Dib was arrested in Hamburg and extradited to France where he has been detained on charges of fraud and money laundering. It is alleged that Martinez may have turned a blind eye to these false certificates. Martinez is currently a special ambassador for international co-operation on cultural heritage and, in February this year, President Macron asked him to draw up guidelines for the restitution of artefacts to countries in Africa.