Two high-ranking archaeologists and curators are being held for questioning by French investigators as part of an investigation into a global art trafficking scandal that has implicated the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Met and former Louvre director Jean- Luc Martinez.
Jean-François Charnier and Noëmi Daucé are suspected of ignoring warnings about the questionable provenance of at least two allegedly stolen Egyptian antiquities worth millions, and of urging the Louvre Abu Dhabi to acquire them, according to the French daily Release.
The couple are suspected of negligence while working at Agence France-Muséums (AFM), which was responsible for certifying the legality and provenance of ancient antiquities for the Louvre Abu Dhabi in time for its opening in 2017.
The two experts worked alongside former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez, the former Louvre director who was chairman of the AFM’s scientific committee from 2013 to 2021 while running the famed museum.
In May, Martinez was charged in France with “complicity in fraud and gang laundering” in the tangled trafficking case, which is being investigated in cooperation with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Although Martinez maintains his innocence, the French government suspended his duties related to art trafficking, as part of his role as cultural heritage ambassador in June.
Daucé, now curator at the Louvre in Paris, was previously head of the archeology department at the AFM. Charnier, who was the scientific director of the AFM and Martinez’s “right arm” according to The worldis now an advisor to another French cultural agency, Afalula, for the cultural development of the Al-Ula region in Saudi Arabia.
Charnier and Daucé have been questioned by the OCBC, the French office against trafficking in works of art, but have not yet been charged with any crime. They can be held for questioning for up to 96 hours, starting Monday morning, according to Releasewho broke the story.
Artnet News has contacted the French authorities for confirmation and is awaiting their response.
AFM was founded in 2007 as an international consulting firm to help create the Louvre Abu Dahbi. Although private, it has shareholders in the public sector, the largest of which is the Louvre Museum. “This particular setup – a private body with public support – allows France Museums to support all sorts of projects,” according to the company’s website.
However, the AFM (often called France Muséums) has been in the spotlight for “genuine professional negligence” and “undoubtedly allowing criminal networks to sell the Egyptian antiquities” involved in the case, according to an OCBC report reviewed by Release.
In total, more than 50 million euros of allegedly stolen ancient works of art are said to have been approved by the AFM for acquisition by Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is also a civil party in the case, along with the Louvre in Paris. An AFM spokesperson told Artnet News that he also asked to be named a civil party.
According to the OCBC report quoted by Releaseinvestigators found that Charnier, Daucé and Martinez often seemed more concerned with pleasing their patrons, filling empty museum halls and maintaining good diplomatic relations with the UAE than heeding the warnings of other experts.
According Release, Charnier may have brushed aside concerns about at least one object: a pink granite stele referencing King Tutankhamun, which was later discovered to have been certified by several forged documents. The work was acquired for the museum, after Charnier allegedly gave in to the wishes of the chairman of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, Mohamed Khalifa al Mubarak, co-chairman of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition commission.
As news broke earlier this spring of Charnier’s possible involvement in the acquisition of the suspect antiquities, he left his former position as chief scientific officer of Afalula to take up a more low-key position as an adviser to the president of the agency, and is preparing to be questioned by the authorities, according to The world.
Contacted last month, the Louvre told Artnet News that Daucé could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Charnier could not be reached and Afalula did not respond to a request for comment.
Release also reported that authorities discovered several “abnormal” deposits made to Charnier’s bank account between 2016 and 2018 by a Belgian auction house run by brothers Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, including the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery in New York. and in Geneva has repeatedly been the subject of police investigations in connection with illicit artefacts. The Aboutaam brothers also sold several works to the Louvre Abu Dhabi via Charnier, according to the French daily.
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