French authorities have detained two archaeologists in connection with a larger probe into the illicit trade of stolen antiquities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates that has led to the indictment of former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez.
Noëmi Daucé, a curator at the Louvre, and Jean-François Charnier, an adviser for Afalula, a French agency that develops cultural projects in Saudi Arabia, have been detained by investigators for questioning, according to the French outlet Liberation. Neither have been charged.
The archaeologists are being questioned in connection with allegations that they failed to address provenance gaps related to two ancient Egyptian objects and then promoted their acquisitions while advising the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The curators were involved with the acquisitions while working at Agence France-Muséums (AFM), a private consultancy firm charged with confirming the legal ownership records of artifacts being considered for the Emirati museum’s collection ahead of its official opening in 2017.
Both experts worked with Martinez, the Louvre’s former director, while he served as president of the agency’s scientific committee between 2013 to 2021, running concurrently with his tenure at the Paris museum. Martinez co-chaired the committee that approved acquisitions for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. He stepped down from his position at the museum in 2021.
In May, Martinez was officially charged in relation to the investigation on the grounds of “complicity of gang fraud and laundering.” The “complicity” charges against Martinezs stem from him allegedly failing to lawfully heed concern about provenance issues that were raised by Marc Gabolde, an Egyptologist at the University of Montpellier. In June, the French government suspended Martinez from his role as a cultural ambassador following the announcement of the charges. (Martinez has denied any wrongdoing.)
AFM, whose largest public shareholder is the Louvre Museum, was established in 2007. According a report published by the Central Office for Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC), which was reviewed by Liberation, AFM has since come under scrutiny for alleged “professional negligence” involving the illegal trade of Egyptian antiquities involved in the museum probe.
According to the OCBC’s report, authorities found that while working on the acquisitions initiative, Charnier, Daucé, and Martinez skirted warnings of provenance issues from outside experts, focusing instead on promoting good relations with the UAE, which forged a joint agreement in 2007 with the Paris institution in order to license the Louvre’s name until 2037.
The report claims that Charnier ignored concerns over the records of a rose granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun that the Abu Dhabi museum bought at the urging of the UAE’s Department of Culture and Tourism chair, Mohamed Khalifa al Mubarak. Al Mubarak was also the co-president of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition commission. Documents associated with the stele were later found to be fraudulent.
French authorities reported that the artifacts alleged to have been stolen are valued roughly at a collective €50 million. (The Louvre’s Paris and Abu Dhabi museums are civil parties in the legal dispute.)