The reputed leader of an alleged Egyptian antiquities trafficking network, 80-year-old Serop Simonian, has been apprehended in Germany and subsequently transferred to France, according to recent reports.
In 2019, the MET acknowledged that they should not have taken the priest Nedjemankh’s 2017 sarcophagus out of Egypt. Authorities took custody of five other pieces with the same provenance. The authorities suspect that Simonian is masterminding the sale of Egyptian antiquities that smugglers purportedly smuggled. It fetched a staggering €60 million ($64 million) in transactions with renowned institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
Several treasures, including a gold sarcophagus and five other items, were taken from the Met after a thorough criminal investigation. Seven people were indicted as a result of the investigation. Amongst them was Jean-Luc Martinez, the former president of the Musée du Louvre.
The investigation began when French officials issued a warrant for Simonian’s arrest. He was imprisoned in Paris after being formally accused of money laundering and trafficking in September. Simonian vehemently denies wrongdoing. Speaking with The Art Newspaper last year, Simonian refuted all claims. He said the antiquities in question were from the collection of his family, who were dealers in Cairo. He further noted that most of the objects were legally exported in the 1970s and held for decades in German museums.
In March 2022, authorities implicated Roben Dib, the director of Simonian’s Hamburg-based gallery, in charges related to the sale of multiple antiquities in Paris. Dib is currently facing these charges. Dib maintains his innocence.
Additionally, the former scientific director of Agence France Muséums, Jean-François Charnier, has come under scrutiny. This follows allegations of him receiving favours from New York dealer Hicham Aboutaam. Aboutaam’s gallery, Phoenix Ancient Art, facilitated the sale of eight works to the Louvre Abu Dhabi between 2008 and 2015. Aboutaam also funded trips for Charnier and his associates, according to evidence found on seized computers. In July 2022, authorities indicted Charnier for selling Egyptian antiquities to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. However, they have not directly linked him to the antiquities trafficking case, and he has not faced charges for these new revelations.
Serop Ohan Simonian, born in Cairo in 1942, completed his PhD on decorated sarcophagi in 1973 at Göttingen. During this time, he established connections with future curators and scholars, laying the foundation for his subsequent involvement in the world of antiquities.