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Auction house involved in illegal antiques trafficking network

One of the country's most prestigious auction houses has been involved in an illicit antiques trafficking network, which was selling artifacts worth tens of millions of euros for years.

Hundreds of millions of euros worth of antique objects have been sold through Pierre Bergé & Associés, one of France's most prestigious auction houses. The objects had been stolen from politically unstable countries in the Middle East such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Investigators at OCBC, a government agency specialising in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods, have been working on the case since July 2018, and they appear to have successfully unravelled the whole trafficking network. The detectives have identified a number of intermediaries in the Middle East who helped the network by transporting the artifacts to France, where they were sold via the auction house. Five people were arrested, including the director and an expert of Pierre Bergé & Associés. Experts have falsified documents to prove the origin of the objects so they could be sold to private individuals. According to Le Figaro, Louvre Abu Dhabi and the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art have also obtained some items.

The latter already had a notable incident with a stolen artefact in 2019. It had to return to Egypt a sarcophagus from 150-50 BC, presumably stolen in 2011 during the chaos caused by the revolution. The US museum bought the artefact for four million dollars from a reseller in Paris whose identity has not been revealed to this day. In Egypt, the number of antique objects stolen and smuggled out of the country has multiplied since the fall of former President Mubarak in 2011.

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