4 indicted in Milan Judaica theft

J'lem District Attorny charges men for stealing, selling judaica artifacts worth 1 m. Euro from a Milan synagogue.

February 13, 2011 16:50
2 minute read.
STOLEN TORAH scrolls that were recovered by police

stolen torahs 311. (photo credit: Israel Police)


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The Jerusalem District Attorney’s office filed an indictment on Sunday against four city men accused of stealing Judaica artifacts worth upward of 1 million euros from a synagogue in Milan earlier this month, and then trying to sell them in Israel.

Two of the men, 22-year-old Meir Mualem and 21-year-old Meir Yerushalmi, were indicted on charges of theft, impersonation and conspiring to commit a crime, for their part of the heist.

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According to the indictment, Mualem lifted the artifacts, silver Torah crowns, rimonim (adornments for the Torah) and other silver and gold objects from the ark in the synagogue, while Yerushalmi distracted synagogue staff. The two then flew back to Israel with the goods, which they planned to sell as their own.

When asked during the customs inspection what they were doing with the objects, the men told the inspector that the artifacts were damaged and that they planned to have them repaired.

Upon arriving in Israel, the two men were met at the airport by the third suspect, 23- year-old Netanel Sa’adon. On the way to Jerusalem, the men contacted an art dealer by the name of Haim Stefansky and arranged for him to come and inspect a sample of the goods.

Sa’adon, together with the fourth suspect, Yosef Haim Mualem, Meir’s brother, met with the art dealer at the capital’s Ramada hotel, introducing themselves under false names.

Later that evening, the sides arranged to meet again in Modi’in Illit so Stefansky could take some of the goods to be appraised. When they met, Stefansky gave Sa’adon $70,000 and some of his own artifacts to keep as a deposit.

According to the indictment, Stefansky and Mualem conducted a negotiation over the final price over the phone, and the two agreed on $285,000 for the whole lot.

In order to write up the contract, Stefansky asked Sa’adon for his identification number.

Sa’adon ordered a false ID card made for him under the name Jonathan Hadad, and gave Stefansky the number.

Stefansky then learned that the goods were stolen, after the rabbi of the Italian synagogue alerted art dealers to the theft.

Stefansky requested to cancel the deal and met with Sa’adon to make the exchange. According to the indictment, Sa’adon returned the artifacts, but not the money.

Sa’adon and Yosef Mualem have been charged with impersonation and forgery, and all four have been charged with money laundering and receiving goods under false pretenses.

In its request to have the suspects held until the end of legal proceedings, the District Attorney’s Office wrote that the men had confessed to the acts and that the reason the authorities wanted them behind bars was that they posed a danger to the public.

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