Safed Deputy Mayor Reuven Sade was arrested yesterday on suspicion of stealing six paintings by the artist Emmanuel Mane-Katz from city hall in the past three years.
Tamir Greenberg of Jerusalem and Freddy Yaakobi of Ra'anana were also arrested yesterday, on suspicion of trafficking in stolen paintings.
Six paintings that were donated by the artist to the city about 50 years ago were stolen from the municipality building in three separate break-ins over the past three years.
According to Noa Tarshish, director and curator of the Mane-Katz Museum in Haifa, one of the stolen paintings is worth about $100,000.
The burglar left no signs, broke no doors or windows and seemed to be familiar with the building, according to police.
After the last burglary the remaining two paintings by Mane-Katz in city hall were moved to the Mane-Katz Museum in Haifa, for fear they too would be stolen.
The paintings were originally displayed in Safed's Glitzenstein Museum, but since its closure, over 20 years ago, they were moved from one storeroom to another until they were hung in city hall a few years ago.
"Now we have suspicions about other paintings that had been in the Glitzenstein Museum and which disappeared without anyone filing police complaints," Police Superintendent Aharon Galor said.
"Mane-Katz's paintings remain very valuable. Some of those pictures are from the 1930s and '40s and are estimated to be worth tens of thousands of dollars," Tarshish noted.
Sade, who is running for reelection on the Social Justice ticket, has previous convictions for theft, assault, forgery, breaking and entering and illegal construction. His family owns the Judith Gallery in the city.
Police began investigating last year, when "Woman with Circus Horse" by Mane-Katz found its way to Sotheby's Israel auction house. It had been stolen from the city hall together with five other paintings.
"The stolen picture that showed up at the auction house was the clue that led us to the suspects," Galor said.
Greenberg and Yaakobi were apprehended with 18 and five stolen pictures, respectively. They are suspected of mediating sales of stolen paintings, including ones by Edouard Manet and Eugene Delacroix, that were not from Safed city hall.
The stolen pictures are estimated to be worth millions of shekels. Emmanuel (Leyzerovich) Mane-Katz, 1894-1962, was a Jewish painter born in Kremenchug, Ukraine. When he was 19 he went to Paris to study art and became friends with Pablo Picasso and other leading painters. In 1931, Mane-Katz's painting "The Wailing Wall" was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World's Fair.
Mane-Katz's early style was classical and somber, but his palette changed in later years to bright, primary colors, with an emphasis on Jewish themes. His oils feature Hasidic characters, rabbis, klezmerim, beggars, yeshiva students and scenes from East European shtetl life.
After his first visit to Palestine, in 1928, Mane-Katz visited the country annually. He said his real home was Paris, but his spiritual home was the Land of Israel.
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