Detained on June 22 and 23 in Paris, five members of the art market in France are suspected of organizing the sale of art and antiques, illegally imported into the country from the territories of the Middle East.
According to Franceinfo, four arrests were made on Monday 22 June, and another on the morning of the following day. All arrests were the result of an investigation by the police and the Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and Cultural Property (OCBC), which has been underway since February 2019. The names of the detainees are not mentioned, but it is known that they all belong to an influential circle of professionals, which includes well-known gallery owners and experts representing museums of international level.
According to the Connaissance des Arts, the detainees include the president of the auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés, an expert in Mediterranean archaeology, former curator of the Louvre, a famous Parisian gallery owner and art dealer. At the moment it is known that they are suspected of involvement in the organization of an art-traffic network, legalization of illegally imported antiques and works of art in the art market of France, the sale of stolen or illegally exported from countries suffering from political instability (Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen), cultural property.
According to sources close to the investigation, production involves “hundreds of art objects and tens of millions of euros”, while legal clearance and trade of antique objects was so high that many of them were bought by famous private collectors and art institutions, the level of the Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In recent years, the illegal market for stolen art and antiques has become a real problem for the international community, also because of the high level of specialists who provide legal support for illegal transactions. Thus, in 2019, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had to return to Egypt the gold sarcophagus of Ptolemy (150-50 BC), bought in 2017 in a private transaction for € 3.5 million, after it was found to have been stolen during the riots in Egypt in 2011. Since then, in order to avoid a repeat of this situation, the museum has reviewed the process of checking the provenance of its purchases.
In the light of recent developments in the investigation of the illicit trade in antiquities and antiques, it is clear that Europe is also fundamentally changing the way it organizes the antiquities market and how it is open to publicity.