The indictment of the former head of the Louvre Museum lifts the veil on the illegal trade in antiquities, which has become “huge”

He is a man ineye from the hurricane. The former president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, has been charged as part of a judicial investigation into a large traffic of antiquities. If his name makes headlines around the world because of his previous job, Jean-Luc Martinez is nothing but the secondary figure of a much larger phenomenon: large-scale antiquities looting.

In many countries plagued by corruption or politically unstable such as Iraq, Syria or Egypt, archaeological sites have become “Real outdoor supermarkets”, According to Vincent Michel, Professor of Archeology of the Orient at the University of Poitiers.

This expert in the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property describes a complex chain: from source countries, through transit countries (Asia, Gulf states, Israel and Lebanon) to destination countries Europe, Russia, Japan, China or the Gulf states) that home buyers and the number of museums or museum projects. “This traffic, born from clandestine excavations and exacerbated by poverty, has been increasing since the Arab Spring in 2011. We can no longer reduce it”confirms the specialist who regularly intervenes in UNESCO.

“Cannot encrypt” Specifically, the global movement in antiquities will be relevant “Dozens or even hundreds of millions‘Euro. “The legal art market has an annual turnover of nearly $63 billion and smugglers are telling themselves there is money to be made.” Confirms Vincent Michel, who trains specialists in police, justice and customs.

This is illegal trade “Feeds petty crime such as organized crime”warns. “Linked to drug and arms smuggling, it is part of a multiform organized crime of money laundering”World Health Organization Serves the mafia, drug dealers and terrorist groups.

An archaeological excavation site in Iraq, a country where antiquities looting is common.  & nbsp;  (-/ AFP)

In Egypt, where a large number of counterfeit products are traded, we went from 1,500 secret excavations annually to 8,960 in 2020, according to the expert. He noted that the looted works are in excellent condition due to the dry climate, as in Mexico. Thieves use metal detectors in particular, to target gold, silver and bronze as a priority.

According to Xavier Delestre, regional coordinator of antiquities at the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where ‘Looting of local archaeological sites exacerbated’State services are also facing Trafficking in cultural property from abroadAfrica and Latin America in particular. He adds, “Artworks with too high a market value that will fail in free ports It reappears with a false story, then is reintegrated into the market Legal or things of less value traded en masse from social networks to online selling sites..

The counterfeiters are from “The astonishing ingenuity of washing up looted items by mixing false and true information, inventing proportions, and manufacturing Forged export documents or purchase invoices to hide the original illegal “says Vincent Michel.

Once it is reintroduced to the legal market, “The looted object is almost undetectable”. this is “Transnational crime fuels a predatory economy that benefits Our national security. It is also irreversible damage to heritage due to The looted thing, taken out of context, loses all its scientific value.”he regrets.

The Internet has exacerbated this phenomenon by “anonymity”, “beating shopping sitessubordinate “Endless means of whitening” and “the ability of traffickers to adapt,” according to the experts.

The former president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, denied his involvement in the illegal trade. TheThe investigation is seeking to see if he will “close your eyes” on forged certificates of origin for five pieces of Egyptian antiquity, including a pink granite stele of Tutankhamun, acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi For several tens of millions of euros. arguing the facts “As firmly as possible.”

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