New York returns 16 looted works of art to Egypt

New York returns 16 looted works of art to Egypt

Nine people had been arrested in France, including the former president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, as part of an investigation into this traffic with international ramifications.

New York justice returned Wednesday, September 7 to Egypt 16 looted works of art, five of which had been seized in the spring at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), as part of an investigation into international traffic involving the former boss of the Louvre in Paris. For two years, New York State justice has been carrying out a vast campaign to restore antiquities looted around the world and which have landed in museums and galleries in the megalopolis: from 2020 to 2021, at least 700 pieces have been returned to 14 countries, including Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Greece or Italy.

On Wednesday, after a ceremony with the Egyptian consul general, New York State Attorney for Manhattan Alvin Bragg announced the restitution to the “Egyptian people” of 16 antiques worth “more than four million dollars”. In a similar ceremony on Tuesday, 58 works of Roman antiquity, including 21 seized from the Met, were returned to Italy for a value of “nearly $19 million”. “Today’s restitution shows the extent of antiquities trafficking networks”denounced the prosecutor Bragg.

Through Israeli traffickers, nine Egyptian works were in the hands of “one of the greatest collectors of ancient art in the world”, Michael Steinhardt, detailed the prosecutor. This octogenarian New Yorker was forced by justice in 2021 to return 180 antiquities looted and sold in recent decades for a total value of 70 million dollars. This agreement allowed him to avoid an indictment, but prohibits him for life from acquiring works on the legal art market.

Nine people arrested in France

Five other coins from Egypt were seized in May at the Met, worth $3.1 million, as part of an investigation between New York and Paris for which the former president of the Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez was charged in France. These five antiquities from the “Dib-Simonian trafficking ring had been looted from archaeological sites in Egypt, smuggled from Germany or the Netherlands to France and sold to the Met by the Parisian company Pierre Bergé & Associés”according to prosecutor Bragg.

The Manhattan prosecutor’s office points out that “Sharing information with investigators around the world has led to the indictment or arrest of nine people in France, including former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez”. The latter, who disputes the facts, is accused of having turned a blind eye to the false certificates of origin of the Egyptian coins and has been indicted for “complicity in organized crime and money laundering”. The Parisian investigation seeks to establish whether, among hundreds of pieces looted during the Arab Spring in 2011, some were acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Among the five works seized at the Met is the stele of a singerin limestone, from 690-650 BC and plundered in the Nile delta during the Egyptian revolution in 2011, sold “at auction in Paris at Pierre Bergé & Associés”, according to the New York justice. The company would thus have provided a false certificate of origin and sold the stele to the Met in 2015. Same circuit for a Fayum portrait from the 1st century AD. New York investigators also got their hands on an 8th century BC bronze statuette bought by a Lebanese art dealer, George Lotfi, which he sold to the Met in 2006.

This octogenarian, long informant of American justice, has since August been the target of an international arrest warrant issued by the United States for the alleged possession of hundreds of works looted in the Middle East.

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