Egyptian antiques worth $3m seized from New York museum

Confiscation relates to an investigation in Paris into the former head of the Louvre

The Supreme Court of New York  ordered the confiscation of this face from a painted wooden Egyptian coffin, along with four other artefacts, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  AFP
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Five Egyptian antiques have been seized from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an international trafficking investigation involving the former head of the Louvre in Paris.

The artefacts are worth more than $3 million, according to the Manhattan district attorney's office.

A New York state judge ordered their confiscation on May 19, a court document shows. They include a group of painted linen fragments depicting a scene from the Book of Exodus, which date from between AD250 and AD450.

A representative of the district attorney told AFP they are related to the investigation in Paris in which Jean-Luc Martinez, who ran the Louvre from 2013 to 2021, was charged last week with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement”.

“The pieces were seized pursuant to the warrant,” he said.

The fraud is thought to involve several other art experts, according to French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

The five pieces seized from the Met were purchased by the museum between 2013 and 2015, according to The Art Newspaper, which first reported the news.

Linen fragments representing a scene from the Book of Exodus, dated AD250-450 and valued at $1,633,446, were seized from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. AFP

A Met spokesman referred to a previous statement in which the museum said it was “a victim of an international criminal organisation” when contacted, AFP said.

In 2019, the museum returned the gilded sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh to Egypt after New York prosecutors determined it had been stolen during the revolts against president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The Met bought the coffin in 2017 and later said the museum had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation.

Several of the individuals charged in the case, including Roben Dib, owner of a gallery in Hamburg and who is currently in custody, were involved in the sarcophagus's sale to the Met, according to a 2019 report by the Manhattan district attorney.

The Book of Exodus painting is valued at $1.6 million. Also among the five works is a portrait of a woman dated from between the years AD54 to AD68 that is worth $1.2 million.

Updated: June 04, 2022, 4:47 AM