43 rare clocks stolen from Israel found in France

By: AP
By: AP

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Timepieces from a priceless collection stolen from a Jerusalem museum were discovered in French bank vaults, police said Wednesday, more than two decades after the heist.

The 43 watches and clocks will return to Israel, where they will join dozens of others from the collection found two years ago, police said Wednesday, reuniting most of the collection of 106 rare artifacts. The 1983 theft from the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art was the costliest heist in Israel's history.

Included in the original collection was an 18th-century watch made for French queen Marie Antoinette by famed watch maker Abraham-Louis Breguet, valued at $30 million by museum officials.

According to Israeli investigators, the first break in the case came two years ago when officials told them the museum paid about $40,000 to an anonymous American woman to buy back 40 items, including the Marie Antoinette watch. Museum director Rachel Hasson told The Associated Press that the watch is "the Mona Lisa of the clock world." She said that find included another piece by Breguet known as the "Sympathiques."

Police forensics experts then examined the clocks, and detectives questioned the lawyer who dealt with the sale. Eventually, police were led to Nili Shamrat, the widow of Naaman Diller, an Israeli thief notorious for heists in the 1960s and 70s.

Diller confessed to his wife on his deathbed, police said.

In the heist, police said, Diller bent the bars to a museum window and used a ladder to climb inside. They added that the thief appeared to have staked out the museum and knew where the guard was stationed and that the alarm was broken.

When Israeli and American law enforcement officers questioned her at her home in Los Angeles last May, they found more stolen clocks.

From there, Israeli police continued pursuing tips on where Diller may have scattered the remaining collection, until the 43 pieces turned up in France.

While none of the recently discovered timepieces rival the Marie Antoinette watch, Hasson said, "It is an amazing collection, they are beautifully designed."

Of the 106 rare timepieces taken in 1983, 96 have now been recovered. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. After the first batch showed up, Hasson said she hoped to display the clocks within two months.

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