France Suspends Embattled Former Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez From Ambassadorship and Creates an Art-Trafficking Task Force

France Suspends Embattled Former Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez From Ambassadorship and Creates an Art-Trafficking Task Force

Under the heading “Situation of M. Jean-Luc Martinez,” France’s ministry of culture announced that the former Louvre director would be put on temporary leave from his role as a cultural heritage ambassador “while awaiting clarification on his legal situation.”

The Friday announcement comes in response to recent charges against Martinez for alleged complicity in organized fraud and money laundering. 

Martinez is implicated in a tangled global investigation of stolen works from Egypt, purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Through his lawyers he has denied any wrongdoing.

Until last week’s suspension, Martinez served as France’s ambassador for international cooperation on cultural heritage, entrusted with combatting art trafficking. From 2013 to 2021 he headed the Louvre and the scientific committee at Agence France-Museums, which certified the pedigree of several now suspect artworks. The Louvre in Paris and the Louvre Abu Dhabi have each taken a civil action in the case.

France’s newly named minister of culture, Rima Abdul Malak, also announced the creation of a task force to examine how illicit cultural objects are acquired, and through what “legal framework,” according to a second statement on Friday. Those findings, to be delivered before the start of the summer, are expected as “threats to the provenance of cultural goods are increasingly sophisticated and complex to thwart,” stated the ministry.

In its remarks, the government also “reminded” the public of “France’s firm engagement in the fight against the traffic of cultural goods,” and pointed to two recent conferences on the topic, held in February and March of this year. However, in another ironic twist, Martinez himself was among the leading speakers at the multilateral meeting in February, which addressed “the reinforcement of European cooperation” against art trafficking.

Indeed, while these conferences were underway in Europe, French and U.S. investigators were already busy untangling at least one ring of smugglers and their enabler dealers who sold ancient works worth millions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. That dragnet was launched by the head of the Manhattan D.A.’s antiquities trafficking unit, Matthew Bogdanos, and most recently included the confiscation of five Egyptian artifacts from the Met.

To lead the new task force, France’s culture ministry named three individuals: Arnaud Oseredczuk, a member of the culture ministry’s ethics committee; Marie-Christine Labourdette, president of the Chateau de Fontainebleau; and Christian Giacomotto, chairman of the supervisory board at investment bankers Gimar and Co. and president of Agence France Museums’s audit committee. The three will work in tandem with the ministry’s own General Inspection of Cultural Affairs.

A receptionist for Giacomotto told Artnet News that it was too early for him to comment on the new assignment. It is not clear whether Giacomotto’s connection to Agence France-Museums presents a conflict of any kind.

The group has made recent headlines for certifying the authenticity of ancient artworks despite numerous irregularities and fake documents related to their provenance, according to the French daily Liberation.

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