Police announce nine suspects in $24M gold and cash heist at Toronto Pearson

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey Arlyn McAdorey
Peel Police Board Chair Nando Iannicca speaks to the media at a press conference regarding Project 24K a joint investigation into the theft of gold from Pearson International Airport, in Brampton, Ont., on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Two men who worked for Air Canada and an alleged firearms trafficker are among nine people facing charges in a heist of nearly $24 million in gold and cash from Toronto’s Pearson airport a year ago, police said Wednesday, offering new details of what happened in the “sensational” case.

Peel Regional Police said their joint investigation – dubbed Project 24K – with the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau has resulted in a combined 19 criminal charges against the suspects, including multiple counts of theft over $5,000. Six of the nine suspects have been arrested while police have arrest warrants for three others.

Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said 6,600 gold bars weighing over 400 kilograms were stolen from Pearson International Airport on April 17, 2023, and had a value of over $20 million. It is the largest gold theft in Canadian history, he said.

“This story is a sensational one, and one which probably, we jokingly say belongs in a Netflix series,” he said.

“This one is a carefully planned and well-organized group of criminals from both inside and outside of airport facilities that orchestrated this theft.”

Det. Sgt. Mike Mavity, the case manager for Project 24K, said the stolen gold and foreign currency were ordered from a refinery inZurich, Switzerland, and were transported in the hull of an Air Canada flight to Toronto.

The flight arrived at 3:56 p.m. on April 17, 2023 and the gold andcurrency were offloaded and brought to an Air Canada cargo facility at the airport.

A suspect then arrived at the cargo facility at 6:32 p.m. driving a five tonne truck and presented a fraudulent airway bill to warehouse employees who loaded the shipment onto his truck, Mavity said

“It’s an actual, legitimate airway bill for seafood. It’s just a duplicate. So that actual seafood was picked up the day before, and they printed it off within Air Canada Cargo (facility),” he said.

An Air Canada employee, a 54-year-old man from Brampton, Ont., is among those charged, police said.

A Canada-wide arrest warrant has been issued for a 31-year-old-man from Brampton who police said was a manager at Air Canada at the time of the theft. Police said he led “a tour” of the cargo facility for police after the theft, and resigned from Air Canada last summer.

“They needed people inside Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” Mavity said.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick confirmed two of the individuals identified by the police did work for Air Canada in the cargo division at the time of the theft.

“One left the company prior to the arrests announced today andthe second has been suspended,” he said. “As this is now before the courts, we are limited in our ability to comment further.”

A lawsuit filed against Air Canada by American security company Brink’s has alleged that a thief presented a forged document to collect about $23.8 million in goods from a holding facility atPearson airport.

Brink’s statement of claim alleged that Air Canada staff handed over 400 kilograms of gold, worth more than $20 million, plus nearly US$2 million in cash to the thief.

Air Canada has denied any improper conduct or responsibility for the theft in its statement of defence and rejected all allegations in the Brink’s lawsuit.

Police said Wednesday they believe the suspects melted the stolen gold and sold it to fund illegal activities, including the purchase of illegal firearms.

“We believe the gold has been melted down and reconstituted into local and possibly international markets,” Mavity said. “It can be done, unfortunately, fairly easy.”

Investigators have seized one kilogram of gold believed to be from the theft, worth about $89,000, as well as smelting equipment and approximately $434,000 in currency.

Police said their investigation also interrupted an attempt to import firearms to Canada from the United States, as the suspect who drove the truck with stolen gold from the airport was later arrested with firearms in Pennsylvania.

They said that suspect was stopped by Pennsylvania State Police near Chambersburg, Pa., in September of last year andtroopers located 65 illegal firearms within his vehicle.

Eric J. DeGree, a special agent with the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco andFirearms Bureau, said the man was arrested after a late night traffic stop when a trooper noted some minor motor vehicle violations.

“The driver … was illegally in the United States and fled on foot when troopers discovered the firearms in his rental car,” DeGree said.

“A court authorized search warrant for the vehicle led to the recovery of those firearms that were allegedly destined to be smuggled into Canada.”

DeGree said one of the firearms had an obliterated serial number, 11 of them were stolen and two of them were converted to fully automatic machine-guns under United States federal law.

Peel’s police chief said that man is still in U.S. custody while all those arrested in Canada have been released on bail.

The police investigation into the heist continues.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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