ITALISCS Italian police recover Renoir and Rubens from heist involving ‘diplomatic rabbi’

italicsBy AP and TOI staff

Police in northern Italy have recovered two paintings stolen in 2017 during a heist in which one of the accomplices dressed up as a “diplomatic rabbi.”

Carabinieri art-squad police displayed the paintings — a Renoir and a Rubens — for reporters Friday in Monza, a city in the northern Lombardy regional of Italy.

Investigators allege the works were stolen in Monza from a pair of art dealers by suspects posing as buyers.

Police said the paintings were found in a warehouse in Turin, Italy. Investigators said there are eight suspects, including four Italians and a Croat who were arrested last month in the case.

The investigators said the thieves had signed a phony contract pledging to pay 26 million euros (about $30 million) for the paintings. According to investigators, when the dealers were distracted, the thieves snatched the paintings and drove off.

Nenad Jovanovic, the Croatian suspect, is accused of falsely presenting himself to an art galley owner as a “diplomat rabbi” to distract the dealer as his accomplices stole the paintings.

Jovanovic, who is not Jewish, is said to have led and masterminded the subterfuge last year in Monza, a northern suburb of Milan, the Corriere della Sera daily reported in June.

Jovanovic, 44, were arrested in May along with three Italians.

According to the Corriere della Sera report, Jovanovic, who has a criminal record for fraud, presented himself to the gallery owner, who was not named, as Samuel Abraham Lewy Graham — an Israeli rabbi and a diplomat in the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Jovanovic allegedly invited the gallery owner to a meeting at what Jovanovic is said to have described as the Israeli consulate in Milan. Jovanovic reportedly told the owner he was interested in buying the paintings.

The heist itself took place weeks later at an apartment one floor beneath the Albanian mission in Milan. Jovanovic is said to have proposed the site as the preferred venue for the completion of the transaction. He made the gallery owner believe that the venue was actually the Albanian mission, prosecutors said.

At the apartment, Jovanovic and an accomplice that he had presented only as “David” allegedly swapped for empty boxes the ones containing the paintings. The gallery owner had brought the paintings along with two security guards. Jovanovic and the accomplice absconded with the boxes containing the paintings in a Peugeot car, the report said.

*The article was published in The Times of Israel on July 20, 2018.