Police bust TA art thieves, find rare Venezuelan documents

Expert compares discovery to "finding a letter from Hertzl."

police car 88 (photo credit: )
police car 88
(photo credit: )
Police investigating a duo suspected of stealing art revealed an unusual discovery on Sunday: dozens of historical documents dating to 19th century Venezuela, including a letter signed by a man who would become that country's president. Approximately two months ago, police from the Tel Aviv District's elite Central Investigative Unit began to investigate two men suspected of being involved in a series of art thefts in the central region. After investigative and intelligence efforts, police succeeded in nabbing the two red-handed as they broke into a shop on Tel Aviv's Rehov Ben Yehuda. During an initial search in the Tel Aviv apartment of suspect Moshe Dahan, 32, detectives discovered 120-130 works of art, as well as two binders containing documents of unknown origin, written in Spanish. Ch.-Insp. Daudi Nissim, the head of the investigation, told The Jerusalem Post that the police were initially unaware of the value of the documents. Only after they finished dealing with the numerous pieces of art did police looked more closely at the binders' contents. Noting that many of the documents seemed to mention Venezuela, police contacted that country's embassy in Tel Aviv, asking for assistance. Help came in the form of the ambassador's wife, accompanied by an embassy staffer. "They were in shock" when they saw the documents, said Nissim. Some of the documents dated back almost 200 years, and many were even composed before Venezuela achieved independence in 1830. The Venezuelan delegation decided to bring in an expert, who, according to Nissim, informed Tel Aviv Police that their discovery was "as important as finding a copy of the [1947 UN] Partition Agreement or one of Theodor Herzl's letters." The collection of certificates and missives includes a letter written in 1860 by Antonio Guzman Blanco, one of Venezuela's most important 19th-century presidents. Considered to be a strong leader diplomatically and administratively, Blanco ruled the South American country intermittently from 1870-1887, relinquishing his office several times to make diplomatic and pleasure trips to Europe, but keeping political control through presidential puppets. The visiting expert estimated the value of the documents at between $700,000 and $1 million. Checking their records, police confirmed that a victim who had reported an art theft had also claimed two binders had been stolen along with the art. The documents' owner confirmed that these were the contents of the stolen binders and said that he had purchased them for a lump sum of $40,000 approximately 40 years ago. The Venezuelan government is looking into how the documents ended up being sold to a private buyer. "It was a very successful case, we worked on it for a few weeks and caught them red-handed. Some of the galleries sent us thank you notes, but all in all, it's just part of our job," said Nissim.