New York prosecutors have seized five Egyptian antiques from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an international trafficking investigation involving the former head of Paris’s Louvre Museum.
The artifacts — which include a group of painted linen fragments, dated between 250 and 450 BC, depicting a scene from the Book of Exodus — 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.
“The pieces were seized pursuant to the warrant,” a spokesperson for the district attorney told AFP on Thursday.
He added that 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 fraud is thought to involve several other art experts, according to French investigative weekly Canard Enchaine.
The five pieces seized from the Met were purchased by the famous museum between 2013 and 2015, according to The Art Newspaper, which first reported the news.
When contacted by AFP, a Met spokesperson referred to a previous statement in which the museum said it was “a victim of an international criminal organization.”
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 ex-president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The Met had purchased the coffin in 2017 and later said it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation.
French investigators are also seeking to establish whether pieces looted during the Arab Spring protests were acquired by the Louvre’s branch in Abu Dhabi.
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 painted portrait of a woman dated from between the years AD 54 to 68 worth $1.2 million. — Agence France-Presse