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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 December, 2004, 17:46 GMT
Israel antique 'forgers' charged
The ivory pomegranate
The pomegranate's inscription was added later, experts now say.
The Israeli authorities have charged four antique collectors with running a forgery ring that created a string of fraudulent biblical artefacts.

The alleged fakes include an ivory pomegranate that was thought to be the only relic of King Solomon's Temple.

The defendants have been charged on 18 counts - including forgery and receiving fraudulent goods.

One of the four, Israeli collector Oded Golan, said there was not "one grain of truth" in the allegations against him.

The ivory pomegranate - whose authenticity as a Jewish relic has now been questioned - was purchased by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for $500,000 in 1998.

Other alleged forgeries include an ossuary which reputedly held the bones of James, Jesus' brother, and a stone tablet with inscriptions on how to maintain the Jewish Temple.

Tip of the iceberg?

According to prosecutors, the suspects took genuine artefacts and added inscriptions to boost their value.

"During the last 20 years, many archaeological items were sold, or an attempt was made to sell them, in Israel and in the world, that were not actually antiques," the indictment said.

"These items, many of them of great scientific, religious, sentimental, political and economic value, were created specifically with intent to defraud."

Investigators say many more forgeries have not yet been discovered.

Mr Golan said the "fantastic allegations" against him were part of a campaign designed to destroy Israel's antiques trade.

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