Israelis suspected of stealing rare Judaica worth from the Milan Central Synagogue in Italy were arrested in Israel yesterday, after they attempted to sell the goods to a Judaica dealer in Jerusalem, police said.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court extended their remand by a week yesterday, and the synagogue's rabbi is expected to arrive in Israel within the next few days to bring the stolen goods back to Milan.
Meir Mualem stands accused of organizing Tuesday's theft, which police said took place after he spent three weeks in Milan studying the layout of the synagogue and the patterns of services. Once he was ready for the next step, he allegedly called for the other members of the gang to join him.
According to the police, the thieves entered the synagogue pretending to be worshipers, and stuffed their bags with the valuable Judaica once they saw they were alone in the building.
The next day they went to France and flew from there to Israel with the goods, police said.
Upon arrival, they started looking for a potential buyer, with one suspect allegedly telling an interested Judaica dealer in Jerusalem that he was organizing the sale for an owner in France.
The Jerusalem dealer, who police say did not know that the goods were stolen, paid a $70,000 advance and sent the goods to a Judaica expert in the center of the country for an assessment before paying the remaining $215,000 of the agreed sale price.
The expert realized immediately that the goods were from the Milan synagogue and alerted police. After clearing the Jerusalem dealer of suspicion, they briefed him on how to lead the suspects into thinking they were closing the deal.
The Jerusalem dealer met with the suspects at the capital's Ramada Hotel, where undercover police officers posing as hotel guests arrested the suspects after they completed the transaction.