Court Upholds Charges Against Ex-Louvre Chief in Art Trafficking Case
The Paris appeals court upheld charges of complicity in fraud and money laundering against the former president of the Louvre on Friday, in a case involving trafficked Egyptian artifacts that shocked the art world when it embroiled the man who used to lead France’s most famous museum.
Jean-Luc Martinez, 58, who was the president and director of the Louvre from 2013 to 2021, was charged in May as part of a yearslong inquiry by the French police into a network of looters, traffickers and antiquities experts believed to be selling looted relics to museums and art galleries.
Mr. Martinez’s lawyers had applied to have the charges dismissed in hopes of removing him from the complex and tortuous case, in which other archaeology experts, and art dealers, are also charged. While the investigation continues, Mr. Martinez, who is now France’s official ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage issues, has been relieved of duties related to illegal art trafficking.
Mr. Martinez, who has always denied any wrongdoing and has not been accused of personally enriching himself, will appeal Friday’s ruling, according to François Artuphel, his lawyer.
The authorities in France have provided few public details about the case against Mr. Martinez, which was a stunning turn in a career that he had most recently devoted to the protection of antiquities in conflict zones.
But the French news media has reported that the police were trying to determine whether Mr. Martinez, a trained archaeologist, had looked the other way or been negligent in handling certificates of provenance for a handful of Egyptian relics, which included fake export licenses to sell looted antiquities.
The relics, including a stone slab depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamen, were acquired for millions of euros under Mr. Martinez’s leadership for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum that opened in 2017 as a collaboration between France and the United Arab Emirates and that used the Louvre brand and expertise.
Mr. Artuphel said in a statement that the court had ignored “many factual and legal incoherencies” in the case against his client. At a hearing in November, he argued that Mr. Martinez had only been alerted to doubts about the Tutankhamen artifact in 2019, three years after it was purchased, and that Mr. Martinez was not directly involved in the details of individual acquisitions.
“We have no doubt that the rest of the procedure will remedy this injustice,” Mr. Artuphel said.
In France, in the most complex cases, the road to a possible criminal trial starts with an investigation by special magistrates with broad investigative powers, who can press charges when they believe the evidence points to serious wrongdoing. But the magistrates can later drop the charges if they do not believe the evidence is sufficient to proceed to trial, or if investigators uncover new evidence.
These inquiries often take several years to unfold. After the hearing in November, when the main prosecutor agreed that there was insufficient evidence against Mr. Martinez, it seemed that he might soon be off the hook.
But overturning charges issued by a special magistrate is rare, and on Friday the court declined to do so.
The other people charged in the case include an antiquities dealer, an archaeology expert and a former executive at the Agence France-Muséums, a company that was set up to oversee the Louvre Abu Dhabi project, according to French news reports.
The descendant of Spanish immigrants and the son of a mailman, Mr. Martinez had a storybook rise to the top of perhaps the world’s most famous museum. He was a curator and the director of the Louvre’s Greek, Etruscan and Roman departments before becoming president in 2013.
While leading the museum he spearheaded efforts to safeguard artifacts at risk of looting and destruction in conflict zones, and wrote a report that France presented to UNESCO in 2015 that included 50 proposals to protect antiquities from looters, like the digital mapping of threatened sites and increased border controls.