Tel Aviv: Burglars indicted for heist of 17th Century manuscripts

The burglars may have gotten away with the botched robbery, had they not made a few key mistakes.

February 28, 2016 14:21
2 minute read.
Man in handcuffs - illustrative

Man in handcuffs - illustrative. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)


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The Rambam Library in central Tel Aviv was the site of a sophisticated break-in last month, and the burglars might have gotten away with it if they hadn’t made a few key mistakes.

Details of the incident at the Rambam Library, a collection of historic Jewish manuscripts and holy books located at Beit Ariela, were cleared for publication on Sunday, as suspects Yossi Hamo, 23, and Netanel Cohen, 26, were indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court on charges of burglary, breaking and entering, conspiracy and trespassing.

The two Tel Aviv residents are suspected of stealing 17th-century rabbinical manuscripts worth an estimated $93,000, according to the indictment.

The would-be antiquities thieves hatched the plot after a corridor was created during renovations that links the Golda Meir parking lot underneath the library to the room holding the safe in which the manuscripts were kept.

Between New Year’s Eve and the theft of the manuscripts on January 21, Hamo carried out a number of dry runs, breaking into the safe and casing its contents, while also disabling its alarms and covering the surveillance cameras and motion detectors, the indictment alleges. Finally, on the night of January 21, Hamo raided the safe, stealing the manuscripts and running to the parking garage, where Cohen waited in the get-away car.

The two are believed to have had a third accomplice, but they refused to give his name to investigators.

At the district court on Sunday, prosecutors presented some of their case against Hamo and Cohen.

Chief among the evidence against the pair is footage of their vehicle entering and exiting the parking garage on each occasion that they scouted the safe, with the time stamps on the parking garage footage matching those from the surveillance cameras inside. On at least one of these occasions, Cohen paid for the parking with his credit card.

In addition, the prosecutors obtained cell phone data that places at least one of the suspects’ phones at the scene during one of the break-ins, as well as evidence that they conspired to cover their tracks after the crime, once they realized the police were following them.

Police have yet to find the stolen manuscripts and are still searching for what they believe are a number of possible accomplices.

The prosecution’s request to keep the two suspects in custody until the end of their trial quoted the words of Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez, who said, “Antiquities theft has become a nationwide problem which harms many places across the country and the ability of experts to record the history of the Jewish people in their homeland.”

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