Israel Releases Name of Fifth Suspect in Alleged Forgery Ring

A fifth suspect in a sophisticated forgery ring that allegedly produced a treasure trove of fake Bible-era artifacts has been indicted, a government official and museum spokeswoman said Monday. In the latest indictment handed down by a Jerusalem court since last week, Rafael Braun, the former head of the antiquities laboratory at the distinguished Israel Museum, was accused of antiquity fraud after a five-day effort by the court to track him down.

Last week, AP reported that four antiquities dealers were charged with “forging a slew of biblical artifacts…that had been claimed as proof of Christianity’s origins.” The four men, Oded Golan, Robert Deutsch, Shlomo Cohen and Faiz al-Amaleh, were charged with adding inscriptions to real antiques in order to link them to major biblical events or persons and upraise greater values for them. Specifically, the indictment accused Braun--whose name was withheld while the court tracked him down--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.

"During or close to 1995 the two accused men formed a conspiracy to forge an ostracon with the purpose that it would constitute an ostracon with an inscription from the period of the Judean kingdoms," the indictment said. "The accused did this for financial benefit."

Police say the ring forged what were presented as perhaps the two biggest biblical discoveries in the Holy Land in recent years - the purported burial box of Jesus's brother James and a stone tablet with written instructions by King Yoash on maintenance work at the Jewish Temple.

“Had they pulled off this fraud, they would have succeeded in changing the history of the Jewish and Christian people," Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman told AP last Wednesday.

Despite the release of Braun's name following the five-day search, court officials have not said whether Braun had been located.