Serop Simonian, the alleged leader of a suspected Egyptian antiquities trafficking ring, was arrested in Germany and transferred to France, the Art Newspaper reported today.
The 80-year-old dealer is believed to be behind the sale of allegedly smuggled Egyptian antiquities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre Abu Dhabi for a collective €60 million ($64 million).
Last year, following a criminal investigation, several objects were seized including a gold sarcophagus and five other antiquities from the Met, as well as the indictment of seven dealers, collectors, and curators such as the former president of the Musée du Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez.
French authorities issued a warrant for Simonian’s arrest, which prompted the criminal investigation. According to legal sources, he was charged with trafficking and laundering in September and was subsequently jailed in Paris.
Simonian, however, denies any wrongdoing. The antiquities in question, he previously told the Art Newspaper, were from his family collection. Most of the objects had been exported from Cairo, where his family worked as dealers, in the 1970s, when trade of this kind was allowed. They were then held in several German museums in the following decades.
Roben Dib, the director of Simonian’s Hamburg-based gallery, was also transferred and charged in Paris for his role in the sale of several antiquities in March 2022. Dib maintains that he is not guilty as well.
Additionally, the former scientific director of Agence France Muséums Jean-François Charnier is suspected of receiving favors from New York dealer Hicham Aboutaam, whose gallery Phoenix Ancient Art sold eight works to the Louvre Abu Dhabi between 2008 and 2015.
The Agence France Muséums helped oversee the development of the Louvre Abu-Dhabi and, for his role in the sale of the Egyptian antiquities to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Charnier was indicted on laundering charges that have been linked to the antiquities traffic ring in July 2022.
Though Aboutaam is not involved in the antiquities trafficking case, the French art police found evidence on seized computers that Aboutaam had paid for Charnier and close allies to travel. The trips, Charnier told the Art Newspaper, were not a quid pro quo but rather occurred after the sales from Phoenix Ancient Art to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.