Former president of Louvre museum charged in art trafficking case
Tourists at the Louvre in Paris. (AFP)

The former president of the Louvre museum in Paris has been charged with conspiring to hide the origin of Egyptian archaeological treasures that investigators suspect were spirited out of the country during the Arab Spring uprisings, a French judicial source said Thursday.

Jean-Luc Martinez was charged Wednesday after being taken in for questioning along with two French specialists in Egyptian art, who were not charged, another source close to the inquiry told AFP.

The case was opened in July 2018, two years after the Louvre's branch in Abu Dhabi bought a rare pink granite stele depicting the pharaoh Tutankhamun and four other historic works for eight million euros ($8.5 million).

Martinez, who ran the Paris Louvre from 2013 to 2021, is accused of turning a blind eye to fake certificates of origin for the pieces, a fraud thought to involve several other art experts, according to a report Wednesday in the Canard Enchaine investigative weekly.

He has been charged with complicity in fraud and "concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement," according to the judicial source.

The move comes after the German-Lebanese gallery owner who brokered the sale was arrested in Hamburg in March and extradited to Paris for questioning in the case.

French investigators suspect that hundreds of artefacts were pillaged during the Arab Spring protests that engulfed several Middle Eastern countries in the early 2010s, and then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask too many questions about previous ownership.

The Canard Enchaine reported that some of the same French experts who certified the Tutankhamun stele also certified another prized Egyptian work, the gilded coffin of the priest Nedjemankh, that was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

After an inquiry by New York prosecutors, the Met said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation, and said the coffin would be returned to Egypt.

(AFP)