PARIS — The former president of the Louvre has been charged with complicity in fraud and money laundering in connection with an investigation into Egyptian artifacts that were trafficked over the past decade, French prosecutors said on Thursday.
Jean-Luc Martinez, who was the president and director of the Louvre from 2013 to 2021, was released under judicial supervision after he was charged, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.
The prosecutor’s office did not provide more details about the investigation, which was first reported by Le Canard Enchaîné and Le Monde.
Under the French legal system, the charges against Mr. Martinez indicate that the investigators suspect him of involvement in a crime but he may not necessarily stand trial. The charges could be dropped at any point if the police uncover new evidence. Complex legal investigations often take several years to unfold in France.
Representatives for the Louvre declined to comment on Thursday. Lawyers for Mr. Martinez was not immediately reachable for comment but told Agence France-Presse that he firmly disputed the charges.
“For now he is saving his statements for the judiciary, and he has no doubt that his good faith will be established,” Jacqueline Laffont and François Artuphel, Mr. Martinez’s lawyers, told the news agency.
The charges were a stunning turn of events for Mr. Martinez, who is currently France’s official ambassador for international cooperation on heritage issues and spearheaded efforts to safeguard artifacts at risk of looting and destruction in conflict zones during his time at the Louvre.
Mr. Martinez had written a report that France presented to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2015 that included 50 proposals, like the digital mapping of threatened sites and increased border controls, to protect antiquities from looters.
Two French Egyptologists were also questioned by the police in connection with the case but were released without charges, the prosecutor’s office said. According to Le Monde, in 2019, a colleague of the Egyptologists alerted them that he had grown suspicious of the provenance of a Tutankhamen stele that ended up at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi said it was unable to comment on the specifics of the case because of the ongoing investigation.
“Louvre Abu Dhabi applies a strict international protocol for artworks entering the collection, as outlined in the intergovernmental agreement between Abu Dhabi and France, signed in 2007,” the museum said. “This protocol is strictly aligned with the 1970 UNESCO convention and follows the most stringent standards of major museums in the world.”
Alex Marshall contributed reporting from London.