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Ex-president of the Louvre charged for ‘closing his eyes’ to trafficking of antiquities

The Louvre’s ex-president is charged for links to antiquities trafficking; Australian police dismantled a crime group in Sydney; and the US issued indictments to Colombia-based gangsters.

Napier AI
May 27, 2022

This week, time was called on countries and criminals alike, as the former president of the Louvre in Paris has been issued several charges in connection with the trafficking of Egyptian antiquities; Australian police concluded a year-long investigation by dismantling an organised crime group in a series of raids throughout Sydney; and US authorities ended a more-than-five-year investigation with multiple indictments of a Colombia-based money laundering syndicate’s members.

Find out more on these stories below.

Former Louvre president charged in connection with inquiry into trafficking of ancient Egyptian objects

Grave charges have been laid at the door of Jean-Luc Martinez, the Ex-President of the Louvre in Paris, who French investigators allege aided in the fraudulent transfer of several highly valuable Egyptian antiquities to the iconic Parisian institution’s sister museum in Abu Dhabi, which shares the same name.

The BBC heard from an unnamed French judicial source that Mr Martinez’s charges are specifically that of “complicity in fraud” and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement,” charges that he denies. It was also reported that two French specialists in Egyptian art were also taken in for questioning, but were not charged.

Among the objects in question is a granite stele that bears the seal of the famous boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, which dates back to around 1327BC and is now listed as part of the collection at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

France 24 reported that the finger was pointed at Martinez after the arrest of the German-Lebanese gallery owner, who acted as broker of the item’s sale, in Hamburg in March 2022. French investigators are closely scrutinising such sales as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the trafficking of ancient objects from the Middle Eastern region, items which they suspect were stolen from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during the unrest of the Arab Spring.

French weekly newspaper, Le Canard enchainé, originally broke the story, reporting that investigators were trying to establish if Mr Martinez had effectively "closed his eyes" to fake provenance certificates for the Egyptian antiquities in question, which the Louvre in Abu Dhabi paid millions of euros for in 2016.

In a twist of irony, since the end of his presidency of the Louvre in 2013 up until the summer of 2021, Mr. Martinez served as France's ambassador for international co-operation on heritage - a role that involved him helping to combat art trafficking.

Lawyers defending Mr Martinez said he protested his questioning in the investigation "with the greatest firmness", and that he had "no doubt that his good faith will be established."

Read more on this story at the BBC.

Australian police raid in Sydney breaks up ‘dial-a-dealer’ drug network

In the early morning of 24 May 2022, 450 armed New South Wales (NSW) police officers, raided 29 locations in the south-west of Sydney, the state’s capital. They made 18 arrests linked to the infamous Alameddine organised crime group (OCG) and seized prohibited weapons, various luxury items, cash, illegal and prescription drugs, and 36 heavily encrypted mobile phones that the group used to sell drugs and collect proceeds across the city.

The so-called ‘dial-a-dealer’ phones are thought to have proved lucrative for the Alameddines, with just one of them storing 700 contacts and raking in about AU$250,000 (£140,913) per week. The phones are also thought to have been used to plan some of the underworld assassinations thought to be linked to the deadly Alameddine-Hamzy feud, which caused at least 13 deaths from October 2020 until the latest raid.

Speaking at a press conference later in the day, NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said she was “confident that we’ve cut the head off the snake.” The operation targeted lower-ranking members of the Alameddine crime family, which lost some senior members to arrest in January’s Operation Hawk, which also targeted their bitter rivals, the Hamzys.

The May raid was the culmination of an almost year-long operation, supported by Task Force Erebus. NSW Police Minister Paul Toole was bullish about the impact the raids will have on both OCGs’ deadly criminal operations, saying that “this has been a form of suburban terrorism – and today we have smashed it.”

Read more on this story at Sydney Morning Herald.

US Federal court indicts 20 members of Columbia-based transnational drug money laundering gang

Earlier this week, a Boston, Massachusetts federal court brought charges against 20 members of a Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE). The gang laundered over $6m (£4,771,200) in proceeds from drug trafficking on behalf of Colombian drug cartels through the banking systems of the US, the Caribbean, and Europe.

Law enforcement agencies have also seized a total of almost 3,000 kg (6,614lb) of cocaine, with an estimated street value of over $90m (£71,568,000). The US Inland Revenue Service Criminal Investigation unit (IRS CI) also seized $1m (£795,200) from several corporate bank accounts.

In a 25th of May revised statement, the US Justice Department said that of the 20 indicted suspects, 12 were arrested in Colombia on the 26th of April 2022, and three apiece in Jamaica and Florida, USA on the 24th of May 2022. The details of the twentieth suspect are redacted.

Court documents state that the five-and-a-half-year investigation into the BMPE syndicate started in late October 2016. The suspects, some of whom are so-called ‘peso brokers,’ ran an intricate scheme giving pesos to drug traffickers in exchange for the cash from US drug sales, which was then deposited into US bank accounts – a process which incorporated multiple money laundering techniques, including bulk cash smuggling, trade-based money laundering, smurfing, and round tripping.

If convicted, the suspects each face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of either $500,000 (£397,000) or double the amount of money involved if it is over $500,000.

Read more on this story at AP News.

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