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February 3, 2023

The Paris Court of Appeal has ruled not to drop the antiquities trafficking indictment against former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez and curator Jean-François Charnier

In the French courts today, the investigative chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal ruled on the request to cancel the indictments against Jean-Luc Martinez and Jean-François Charnier requested by the Advocate General. 

Last summer, the country saw Martinez, its former director of the Musée du Louvre from 2013 to 2021, and the former scientific director of the Agence France Museums charged with "complicity" in money laundering, "by facilitating the false justification of the origin of the property of the author of a crime or an offense".  Charnier, for his part, is suspected of having intentionally favoured the sale of €50 million in acquisitions of illicit material to the Emirati museum, in spite of warnings about their problematic.  

The heart of the accusations has been the costly purchases of several Egyptian artefacts between 2014 and 2018, including:
  • a pink granite stele of Tutankhamun, acquired for 8.5 million euros
  • a bust of Cleopatra, acquired for 35 million euros, 
  • a golden funeral coffin ensemble for Princess Henouttaouy, acquired 5 million euros 
  • a bronze sculpture of Isis
  • a blue earthenware hippopotamus 

The alleged primary brokers and handlers of these artefacts include France-based art broker Christophe Kunicki, Hamburg-based art dealer Roben Dib, and Dib's business partner Serop Simonian, an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt, who also resides in Germany. 

Suspected of playing a central role in the sale of illegally excavated antiquities, Christophe Kunicki and Richard Semper were taken into custody on June 22, 2020 and charged with with gang fraud and money laundering. Both were released from French custody on June 26, 2020, with judicial supervision orders pending their trial outcome.  

Suspected by US and French authorities of playing a central role in the sale of suspect antiquities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Roben Dib, a director at Dionysos Ancient Coins & Antiquities was taken into French custody in March 2022, shortly after posting a €600,000 bail in Germany. 

Held in pretrial detention for seven months at the Centre pénitentiaire de Fresnes, Val-de-Marne, south of Paris, Dibs is released from French custody in October 2022 with an order of judicial supervision pending trial, alongside an additional €350,000 French bail condition.  Dibs was rearrested on January 10, 2023, and brought before a judge, who released him the same day with a stern advisory, that if the outstanding balance of his French bail requirement was not paid in full, he would again be subject to pre-trial detention. 

Today, the Investigating Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal rejected both Martinez and Charnier's defence counsels requests to lift the “mise en examen” (the indictment by the investigating judge in the context of a judicial investigation) and confirmed that both the former president of the Louvre and the former scientific director remain under indictment.  Martinez has been indicted for laundering and complicity in organised fraud.  Charnier has been indicted for laundering by facilitating the false justification of the origin of the property of the author of a crime, or a misdemeanour, and placed under judicial control." 

Through their lawyers, both Martinez and Charnier have indicated they will appeal today's court decision.  Both remain free on judicial supervision while their case proceeds through the French court.

The OCBC's investigation built upon collaborative investigations with the New York County - Manhattan's Antiquities Trafficking Unit, who first unravelled the network of traffickers during their investigation into the illicit trafficking of the ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.  Like in the New York case, the French case centers on artefacts which were laundered by means of falsified documents, in particular false invoices and export licenses.