The deputy mayor of Safed, Reuven Sadeh, was indicted yesterday for stealing 23 valuable works of art from the city.
Sadeh, 50, is currently running for reelection to the city council in next month’s municipal elections.
According to the indictment, which was filed in the Nazareth District Court, the stolen artwork was worth tens of millions of dollars. It included original paintings by Edouard Manet, Eugene Delacroix and Paul Cezanne that were donated to the city in 1969 and originally displayed in its Glicenstein Museum. But in 1985, that museum was converted into the Israel Bible Museum, and the paintings, other than a few that were hung in city hall, were put into storage.
The artworks in question were stolen over the course of the subsequent 22 years, the indictment said. Some, it charged, were stolen directly by Sadeh; in other cases, he commissioned the thefts; and in still others, he acted as a fence for the stolen goods.
In order to sell the works, Sadeh, who owns an art gallery in Safed, claimed that they had been left to him by a Holocaust survivor. He hired a legitimate dealer to handle the sales, in exchange for a cut of the profits, and in total, he received some NIS 700,000 from this dealer, the indictment said.
Some of the works were taken to Geneva for sale and are still there. Israel has therefore asked the Swiss authorities for help in recovering them.
The first lead in the case came when Noa Tarshish, director of the Mane Katz Museum in Haifa, recognized a Katz picture that was up for sale at a public auction as one that had been stolen from the Safed municipality. Altogether, eight Katz pictures were stolen from the city in three separate break-ins, but that is the only one that has so far been found.
Earlier this month, police yesterday raided the home of alleged crime kingpin Meir Abergil in Kfar Truman, confiscating eight paintings – one of them by Reuven Rubin – suspecting they could be among the art works stolen from Safed’s city hall in recent years.