French authorities on July 25 detained two top archaeologists who were previously employed by international consultancy Agence France Muséums (AFM) in connection with an antiquities-trafficking investigation that has touched the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris. French daily Libération reports that Jean-François Charnier, an adviser for French agency Afalula, which works to develop cultural projects in Saudi Arabia, and Noëmi Daucé, a curator at the Louvre, were taken into custody by representatives of the Central Office for Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC) on the suspicion that they negligently facilitated the sale of two Egyptian artifacts to the Louvre Abu Dhabi despite concerns surrounding the objects’ provenance.
At the time the pair worked for AFM—Charnier as chief of its archaeology department and Daucé as the organization’s scientific director—the agency had been engaged to verify the provenance of artifacts being considered for the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi ahead of its 2017 opening. Charnier and Daucé worked on this project with Jean-Luc Martinez, then the director of the Louvre in Parisas well as the president of AFM’s scientific committee. The three are alleged to have ignored pressing questions of provenance in favor of fostering good relations with the United Arab Emirates, which in 2007 entered into agreement with the Louvre to license the museum’s name through 2037. Martinez was indicted in May on charges of “complicity in fraud in an organized gang and laundering by false facilitation of the origin of property.” He is suspected of having approved the purchase of multiple antiquities from dealers Roben Dib and Christophe Kunicki despite being aware that the objects were stolen: Dib and Kunicki, who also face fraud and laundering charges, have asserted that the items in question were legally obtained. The OCBC is working the case in tandem with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which is investigating the sale of possibly looted artifacts by Dib and Kunicki to the Met.
Though Dauce’s role in the scandal has not yet been specifically limned, Libération reports that Charnier turned a blind eye to questions regarding the provenance of a rose granite stele showing the pharaoh Tutankhamun that the Louvre Abu Dhabi bought on the recommendation of Mohamed Khalifa al Mubarak, chair of the UAE’s Department of Culture and Tourism, who was at the time copresident of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition commission. Documents recording the object’s provenance were later found to have been falsified.
Thus far, neither Charnier nor Daucé has been charged. Under French law, they may be held for questioning for up to ninety-six hours.