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International art trafficking: 2 archaeologists detained for selling stolen antiquities worth millions

Ishita Srivastava
Ishita SrivastavaJul 27, 2022 | 17:40

International art trafficking: 2 archaeologists detained for selling stolen antiquities worth millions

Stele in the name of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Photo: Louvre Abu Dhabi

French archaeologists and heritage curators Jean-François Charnier and Noëmi Daucé have been detained by French authorities in connection with an international art-trafficking sale.

The art pieces in question are two stolen Egyptian antiquities worth millions, that were sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, US and the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: AFP

The two stolen antiquities are part of an international investigation going on over the sale of US $56 million worth of antiques to both museums between 2013 and 2017. The investigation has already led to the suspension of famed Louvre Paris director Jean-Luc Martinez.

Martinez was the President of the Agence France-Muséums (AFM) scientific committee from 2013 to 2017. He was working with the AFM and Louvre Paris at the same time.

Jean-Luc Martinez. Photo: AFP

While Martinez was charged with complicity of gang fraud and laundering, Charnier and Daucé are being questioned about their negligence and ignoring warning about the gaps in the origins of the two Egyptian artifacts.

Jean-François Charnier. Photo: AFP

What is the case? The AFM is a private consultancy firm that was tasked with authenticating the legal ownership of artifacts being placed at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, before its opening in 2017.

Martinez co-chaired the committee which was responsible for approving acquisitions for the museum, and, during this time, he worked with both Charnier and Daucé. Charnier was the AFM’s scientific director and acted as Martinez’s ‘right-hand man’ while Daucé was the former head of AFM’s archaeology department.

Noëmi Daucé. Photo: kaphbooks.com

As per a report by France-based Central Office for Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property (abbreviated as OCBC in French), all three of them ignored the issues in authenticating the origins of the antiques in order to promote good relations with the UAE.

One of the artifacts that is being deeply investigated is a rose granite stele depicting the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, made in 1327 BC.

Stele in the name of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Photo: Louvre Abu Dhabi

The stele was purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2016 for €8.5 million (over US $8 million), due to the urging of chair of the UAE’s Department of Culture and Tourism and co-president of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition commission, Mohamed Khalifa al Mubarak.

The OCBC’s report shows that the stele’s legal documents are fake.

As reported by the French magazine Liberation, 7 pieces of illegally obtained artifacts have passed through the AFM to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The pieces were acquired by Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki.

In June 2022, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office of New York has confiscated 5 Egyptian artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, US. These artifacts were linked to Kunicki and he was accused of falsifying documents in order to traffic hundreds of artifacts from the Middle East region to MOMA. (Read more here: 5 Egyptian artifacts seized at US museum, linked to international ring)

Both the Louvre Paris and Abu Dhabi museums are civil parties in the ongoing international investigation.

Last updated: July 27, 2022 | 17:40
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