Antiquities trafficking: Jean-François Charnier, a diplomatic archaeologist at the heart of the Martinez affair

Antiquities trafficking: Jean-François Charnier, a diplomatic archaeologist at the heart of the Martinez affair

Even when he sits down near Parc Monceau in Paris, Jean-François Charnier, head of culture and heritage at Afalula, the French development agency for Saudi site of Al-Ula, keeps something of the land he has just left. T-shirt, cap and out-of-season tan distinguish the archaeologist from other cultural professionals. Slightly cowboy, he is no less discreet, almost suspicious.

The former scientific director of the France Museums agency, an entity created to carry out the Louvre Abu Dhabi project, was often wary of the media, and refused our interview requests, even if he did not always hated communicating to highlight his contribution to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in particular on the issue of universalism and the dialogue of civilizations. For some time, he has been preparing to answer other questions, those of justice, which is investigating five objects looted in Egypt purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. According to a source familiar with the matter, his home in Bois-Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine) had already been searched in June 2020.

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The case, which earned the former president of the Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez an indictment for “money laundering and complicity in fraud in an organized gang” concerns him directly. In the complex organization set up to feed the collections of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, born of a bilateral agreement signed in 2007, Jean-François Charnier is central. Between political considerations and scientific constraints, it forms the interface. First curator at the France Museums agency, he became its scientific director in 2013 at the request of Jean-Luc Martinez. The latter entrusts him with the essential mission of selecting works which will be submitted for the approval of the Emirates, that is to say which meet a double criterion: exceptional quality and total reliability. However, as revealed Release in his edition of June 9, Jean-François Charnier showed himself, to say the least, imprudent. If Martinez is responsible, as president of the scientific council, his right arm is apparently not beyond reproach.

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Given his experience, why did he accept the documents provided to him by the French expert Christophe Kunicki, in 2016, with the engraved stele of Tutankhamun? Should he have winced when he discovered that the object belonged to a German naval officer named Behrens, then to a Cairo merchant, before ending up in the hands of the Simonian family? Under the seal of anonymity, an Egyptologist attests that the consultation of the registers of the officers of the German merchant navy, as well as those of the cemeteries, should have alerted him. “This name does not appear anywhere”he assures.

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