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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Nine people, including an airline worker, are arrested in $14.5 million gold heist

By Ian Austen

It was a brazen theft: thousands of gold bars and millions of dollars in bank notes stolen a year ago from Toronto’s international airport.

On Wednesday, Canadian authorities announced the arrest of nine people, including an Air Canada employee, in connection with the theft of more than 20 million Canadian dollars, about $14.5 million, in gold bars and CA$2.5 million, about $1.8 million, in bank notes that vanished from a warehouse at Toronto Pearson Airport in April 2023.

Arrest warrants have also been issued for three other people, including a manager at the airline.

“This story is a sensational one,” Nishan Duraiappah, chief of the Peel Regional Police, said at a news conference on Wednesday, where he stood in front of a truck he said was used in the heist. “One we jokingly say belongs in a Netflix series.” The Peel police are responsible for law enforcement at Toronto’s airport.

The gold, Duraiappah said, was partly used to buy guns that were bound for Canada. The man who drove the truck used in the gold theft was arrested in Pennsylvania in September after a police officer stopped a rental car he was driving for a traffic violation and found 65 guns, two of which were fully automatic rifles. The man has been charged with conspiracy to illegally traffic firearms into Canada.

It is unclear if that arrest and a separate investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the United States into the firearms smuggling revealed the broader theft plot. Eric DeGree, a special agent for the ATF who was at the news conference, said that the agency contacted the Peel police after finding the man’s name in a police information database.

The gold theft, which Duraiappah said was Canada’s largest, appeared to be remarkably simple. The gold and cash arrived at the Toronto airport in a special container aboard an Air Canada flight from Switzerland on April 17, 2023, and it was moved to one of the airline’s warehouses.

The container held 6,600 gold bars that were destined for a Toronto-based bank and bank notes bound for a currency exchange.

About two hours later, a truck driven by the man who was arrested in Pennsylvania pulled up at the warehouse. The man carried a waybill — a document usually issued by a carrier with details about a shipment — that gave him access to the warehouse, police said.

It was actually a duplicate of a waybill, printed on an Air Canada printer, for a shipment of seafood that had been picked up a day earlier.

The container with the gold bars and bank notes was loaded into the truck.

“They needed people inside Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” Mike Mavity, a detective sergeant with the Peel police, said at the news conference.

Video recordings showed the truck traveling down Canada’s busiest highway before eventually disappearing from sight in a rural area west of the city.

Peel police officers were called early the next morning after a Brink’s armored truck arrived with the actual waybill for the shipment of gold and bank notes.

Police said on Wednesday that they believe the gold bars, which had serial numbers, were all melted down and that they had seized smelting pots. The only gold recovered, police said, was six bracelets made out of about CA$89,000 worth of pure gold. Among the people arrested was the owner of a jewelry shop in Toronto.

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