Israel names fifth suspect in major antiquities fraud case

jerusalem (ap) | The former head of the antiquities laboratory at the prestigious Israel Museum is the fifth suspect in a sophisticated forgery ring that allegedly produced a treasure trove of fake Bible-era artifacts, a government official and museum spokeswoman said last week.

The ring has been accused of forging what had been heralded as perhaps the two biggest biblical discoveries in the Holy Land in recent years — the purported burial box of Jesus’ brother James and a stone tablet with written instructions by King Yoash on maintenance work at the Temple.

Justice Ministry spokesman Uri Steinberg named the suspect as Rafael Braun. He said he was the fifth person appearing on an indictment that was handed down by a Jerusalem court last week.

Braun’s name was withheld during a five-day effort by the court to track him down, Steinberg said.

A court official could not say whether Braun had been located.

An Israel Museum spokeswoman confirmed that Braun was employed at the museum as the head of the antiquities laboratories, but he left in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Israeli antiquities expert said Braun was living in Switzerland, where he worked as an antiquities restorer.

The indictment accused Braun and antiquities collector Shlomo Cohen of attempting to forge an inscription on an ostracon — a fragment of limestone pottery — from the period of the kingdoms of Judea, which lasted from the 10th to sixth century B.C.

Beside Braun and Cohen, the Israeli accused three other men in the antiquities frauds — Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan; Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University; and antiquities dealer Faiz al-Amaleh.