The investigation carried out by the Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC) on objects of dubious provenance validated by the France Museums agency and purchased by the Louvre Abu Dhabi is relentless: the entire chain of selection, control and acquisition proved flawed. Regarding the Ministry of Culture, which grants export licenses for valuable cultural property, the police report is also final. “The French museums service is absolutely not equipped to allow the detection of possible antiquities of illegal origin”indicates a synthesis whose the World was able to find out. No sufficient levers to enforce the regulations in force, nor properly process export requests, no audit carried out to detect flaws in the French system relating to export authorizations. The delivery of these precious sesames is in fact not subject to confirmation that the goods are neither fake nor come from illicit excavations.
Understaffed and under pressure, the department that issues exit passports must process requests sent by merchants and auction houses within a maximum of four months. However, very often, the files are incomplete. The police did the count: between May 2008 and February 2019, the expert Christophe Kunicki, examined in 2020 for “fraud, criminal association and use of forgery”, transmitted 368 requests, “almost systematically incomplete”. A Parisian merchant, David Ghezelbash, also indicted in March 2022 for “receiving, fraud and money laundering in an organized gang”, sent 199 incomplete requests to the service. Files may be incomplete, but market professionals often put pressure on them to be processed urgently. Requested on August 17, 2017, the license for the export of the stele of Tutankhamun sold by Kunicki to the Louvre Abu Dhabi was granted on October 21, 2017. That for the head of Cleopatra, worth 35 million euros, requested on October 11, was given five days later. Deadlines that exclude any in-depth investigation.
To speed up the obtaining of certificates, market professionals are sometimes caressing: flowers, chocolates, books are sent to the agents in charge of processing their files. “It’s very disturbing, recognizes an employee of the service, auditioned in October 2021. It is a practice which tends to decrease, but which persists. I think it was much more important before, compared to what I know now. » Why doesn’t she refuse these presents? “They offer it to the hierarchy. So. » When the agents ask applicants for additional information, some express their dissatisfaction, or even go directly to the Minister of Culture to resolve the situation. Asked at the beginning of 2022 by the OCBC on the fact that the authorizations for the export of looted objects participate, to a certain extent, in their laundering, Anne-Solène Rolland, then head of the service of the museums of France, had remained speechless. “I take noteshe had replied to the investigators, but I was not aware that it could be exploited to that extent. »