Airline worker among six arrested in $22M airport gold heist. Police say it was an inside job

Six people have been arrested in last year’s multimillion-dollar gold heist at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, police in Canada and the US said Wednesday.

Police have also issued arrest warrants for three others in what they described as an “inside job.” All nine suspects have been charged with over 19 counts.

On April 17, 2023, an air cargo container carrying more than 22 million Canadian dollars’ worth of gold bars and foreign currency was stolen from a secure storage facility using fake paperwork, police say. The gold and currency had just arrived on an Air Canada flight from Zurich, Switzerland.

At least two former Air Canada employees allegedly helped in the audacious theft, police say. One is now in custody and an arrest warrant has been issued for the other.

“They needed people inside Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” Detective Sgt. Mike Mavity of Peel Regional Police said, adding that in his opinion, this was an “inside job.”

“We thank the police for their diligent efforts in investigating this matter. As this is now before the courts, we are limited in our ability to comment further. However, we can confirm, as stated by police, that two of the individuals identified did work for Air Canada in the cargo division at the time of the incident. One left the company prior to the arrests announced today and the second has been suspended,” Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Air Canada, said in a statement.

The investigation, dubbed “Project 24Karat,” involved the Pennsylvania division of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ATF says a Canadian man arrested in Pennsylvania on traffic violations in September 2023 was the driver of the truck that stole the cargo container. The man was in the US illegally and fled on foot during a traffic stop after a state trooper found firearms in his rental car, it 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,” said Eric DeGree, an ATF special agent who spoke at the Peel Regional Police news conference, adding that 65 firearms were prevented from “being used in any number of violent crimes.”

Police allege the sophisticated organized crime ring planned to use most of the gold and cash to traffic firearms into Canada.

“We believe that they’ve melted down the gold and the profits they got from the gold they used to help finance the firearms, obviously purchasing the illegal firearms,” said Mavity, adding, “We believe that’s how the gold and money has now kind of worked into the firearms trafficking aspect of the investigation”.

Canadian and US officials say the investigation is ongoing and only a fraction of the stolen gold bars and cash has been recovered. Police say after executing a search warrant in Ontario, they found five crudely melted gold bangles worth about $90,000.

“This was the largest gold heist in Canadian history, reportedly, it’s the sixth largest in world crime history,” said Deputy Police Chief Nick Milinovich.

“I don’t think I ever imagined they’d have to deal with the largest gold heist in Canadian history, it’s almost out of an Ocean’s Eleven movie or a CSI. But these criminals thought they were more sophisticated than police, they were wrong,” said Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ontario.

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