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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Stolen art, several high figures of Parisian art world arrested

The president of the auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés, an expert in Mediterranean archeology, a former curator of the Louvre, a renowned Parisian gallery owner and an art dealer were arrested on Monday and Tuesday by agents of the Central Office against trafficking in the cultural property (OCBC).

These respected people from the world of antiques in Paris are suspected of having "laundered" antiques and works of art stolen or looted in several countries. Countries plagued by political instability since the early 2010s and the emergence of the Arab Spring: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. According to sources familiar with the matter, this traffic would have involved hundreds of items and would involve several tens of millions of euros.

The OCBC agents suspect these five personalities having "storefront" to have made up, with the help of intermediaries on-site, the origin and history of these works to then legally resell them to individuals but also to major cultural institutions such as The Louvre Abu Dhabi or the Met of New York. "It is a very large file which goes far beyond the hexagonal borders," commented one of the sources.


In 2019, the prestigious New York museum had already had to return to Egypt a sarcophagus dating from 150 to 50 BC, probably stolen in 2011, amid a revolutionary tumult in this country. It had been acquired for four million dollars from a Parisian art dealer whose identity had not been revealed.

In Paris, the preliminary investigation which led to the arrests had been opened in July 2018 and entrusted to the OCBC and the Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime (OCRGDF). The investigations were then transmitted on February 7 by the National Court responsible for the fight against organized crime (Junalco) from the Paris prosecutor's office to investigating judges in the context of judicial information for concealment of theft in organized gangs, criminal association, money laundering and defrauding in an organized gang, forgery and use of forgery as well as the omission of mention by the seller in the register of movable objects.

In 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution banning the trade in illegally removed goods from Iraq and Syria, and requiring all member states to take measures to prevent this trafficking. This resolution equated this trafficking with the financing of terrorism.

In Libya, Syria, and Yemen, a country still torn apart by armed conflict, failing security has encouraged clandestine excavations, the looting of museums, and the trafficking of antiquities. Gilles de Kerchove, EU coordinator for the fight against terrorism, said that a large number of antiquities stolen in Syria and Iraq during the Islamic State (IS) group's "caliphate" were also hidden in the region waiting to be sold. In Egypt, attempts to smuggle antiques had multiplied after the fall of Mubarak during the revolt of 2011.

Le Journal des arts.

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