Jean-Luc Martinez, who served as the director of the Louvre in Paris from 2013 until last year, was questioned by French authorities earlier this week as part of its investigation into an alleged trafficking ring of antiquities, the Art Newspaper reported Wednesday.
The investigation centers around objects that were sold the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which has licensed the Louvre’s name until 2037, as part of a joint agreement between the UAE and France.
Martinez departed the esteemed institution last year, when his successor Laurence des Cars, the first woman to lead the Louvre, took the helm in September. During the final year of his controversial tenure, it was unclear whether his contract would be renewed by the French state and he even went on a media tour to petition for a third term as the institution’s leader.
In addition to Martinez, the French Central Office for Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC) also questioned the Vincent Rondot, the head of the Louvre’s Egyptian department, as well as Olivier Perdu, an Egyptologist who edits the journal Revue d’Egyptologie, according to a “source close to the investigation,” per the Art Newspaper.
Both Martinez, who was still in police custody on Wednesday evening local time, according to the Art Newspaper, and Perdu have denied wrongdoing. When reached by ARTnews, the Louvre declined to comment on the situation or to provide any statement from Rondot.
As part of the ongoing investigation, two antiquities dealers have previously been detained. In March, Hamburg-based dealer Roben Dib was detained and subsequently charged with gang fraud and money laundering. In 2020, Paris-based dealer Christophe Kunicki was arrested and then charged with criminal conspiracy, gang fraud, and laundering. Both dealers have denied wrongdoing.
Kunicki had sold the Met a golden sarcophagus in 2017 for €3.5 million. The museum returned the object to Egypt in 2019 after an investigation uncovered that it been given faked provenance documents, which falsely claimed the sarcophagus has been legally exported from Egypt in 1971. The investigation subsequently uncovered that Dib had been involved in forging those documents.
In an email to ARTnews, a spokesperson for the Met said the museum “is a victim of an international criminal organization, currently under ongoing investigation in multiple jurisdictions. Throughout this investigation, The Met has been fully cooperative, and will continue to be so. The Museum’s employees were deceived by this criminal conspiracy.”
As a result of an internal investigation as to the acquisition of the golden sarcophagus, the spokesperson said the Met has “since updated our Collections Management Policy to provide more rigorous requirements verifying the authenticity of documentation, and issued additional internal guidelines for provenance research in relation to the acquisition of antiquities, verification of documentation, and contact with source countries.”
Authorities are also looking into nine other objects sold by Kunicki and Dib to either the Met or the Louvre Abu Dhabi for a total of some €50 million.
Though none of the objects where sold to the Louvre in Paris, any objects acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi must be approved by a joint governmental commission that is chaired by the Louvre Paris’s director, which at the time would have been Martinez.
Updated, May 26, 2022: This article has been updated to include statements from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.