French authorities detain two archaeologists and a curator at the Louvre, due to investigation into international art trafficking network

Autoridades francesas detêm dois arqueólogos e um curador do Louvre, devido à investigação sobre rede de tráfico internacional de Arte

Two archaeologists and curators have been detained for questioning by French judicial police as part of an investigation into the global art trafficking scandal involving 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 Egyptian antiquities, reportedly worth millions of dollars, that were acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi, according to French newspaper Liberation.
The two are suspected of negligence when they worked at the private agency France-Muséums (AFM), which was tasked with certifying the legality and provenance of antique antiquities for the Louvre Abu Dhabi in time for its opening in 2017.

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The two experts worked alongside former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez, a former Louvre director who was chairman of the AFM's scientific committee from 2013 to 2021, while also heading the famous museum. In May, Martinez was accused in France of “complicity in fraud and laundering”. Although Martinez claims his innocence, the French government suspended his duties related to the art trade, as part of his role as ambassador for cultural heritage in June. Daucé, now curator of the Louvre in Paris, was previously head of the archeology department at the AFM. Charnier, who was the scientific director of AFM and Martinez's “right-hand man” according to Le Monde, is now a consultant for another French cultural agency, Afalula, for the cultural development of the Al-Ula region of Saudi Arabia.
Charnier and Daucé have been questioned by the OCBC, the French office against art trafficking, but have yet to be charged with any crimes. They could be held for questioning for up to 96 hours, starting Monday, according to Liberation, which broke the story. 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 organization with public support – means that France Muséums is able to support all types of projects,” according to the company's website.

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However, the AFM (often called France Muséums) has been in the spotlight for “professional negligence” and “no doubt allowing criminal networks to sell the Egyptian antiquities” involved in the case, according to an OCBC report that was released. . In total, more than €50 million worth of allegedly stolen ancient artwork is believed 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.
According to the OCBC report cited by Liberation, investigators found that Charnier, Daucé and Martinez often seemed more concerned with pleasing their customers, filling empty museum halls, and maintaining good diplomatic relations with the UAE than in heed the warnings of other experts.
According to Liberation, Charnier may have put aside concerns about at least one object: a pink granite star referring to King Tutankhamun, later found certified with several forged documents. The work was acquired for the museum after Charnier allegedly complied with the wishes of the chairman of Abu Dhabi's department of culture and tourism, Mohamed Khalifa al Mubarak, co-chair of the Louvre Abu Dhabi acquisition commission.
As news broke earlier this spring of Charnier's possible involvement with the acquisition of the suspected antiquities, he quit his old job as Afalula's scientific director to take a more low-key position as an adviser to the agency's president, and has been preparing for interrogation. authorities, according to Le Monde.
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. Liberation also reported that authorities found several "abnormal" deposits made into Charnier's bank account between 2016 and 2018 from a Belgian auction house run by brothers Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, whose Phoenix antique art gallery in New York and Geneva has been repeatedly subject to police investigation, due to connections 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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“Neither Phoenix Ancient Art, nor its owners, nor any entity associated with our gallery had any ownership, control or management over the Belgian auction house to which Liberation referred,” a spokesperson for the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery told Artnet News. “Obviously there are people out there who want to drag Phoenix's name into the Paris reportage, ignoring the transparent fact that Phoenix sold masterpieces with impeccable provenances to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, all of these sales can be viewed online . "

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