Today in Israeli History

Watches, Art Stolen From Islamic Museum

April 16, 2021

April 16, 1983

Watches, clocks and paintings worth tens of millions of dollars are stolen overnight from the L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art, now the Museum for Islamic Art, in Jerusalem. The break-in at the western wing of the museum, just steps from the president’s residence, may have been the highest-value heist in Israeli history to that point.

The 200 stolen items include a collection of 57 timepieces created by French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, including one believed to have been made for Queen Marie Antoinette that is valued at $30 million. That collection was donated to the museum by its founder, Vera Bryce Salomons, daughter of Breguet expert Sir David Lionel Salomons.

Police conclude that the sophisticated burglary takes advantage of lax museum security. The two guards on night duty supposedly are asleep during the break-in, and the window used by the thieves does not have an alarm system.

The mystery of the museum burglary remains unsolved for more than 20 years. In 2006, a Tel Aviv antiques dealer reports that a lawyer in the city has some of the stolen goods and is trying to sell them for his client. Investigators learn that the lawyer’s client, Nili Shamrat, inherited the heist loot in 2004 after her husband, Na’aman Diller, confessed to the crime on his deathbed. Police recover most of the stolen items during searches of Shamrat’s home and bank boxes in 2008. She is convicted of possession of stolen property in 2010 and sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term and 300 hours of community service.

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