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Air Canada Staff Are Suspects in Heist of 6,600 Gold Bars

Air Canada Staff Are Suspects in Heist of 6,600 Gold Bars
An employee holds a stack of gold bars in the precious metals vault at Pro Aurum KG in Munich, Germany, on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Silver jumped to the highest in almost seven years and gold continued its march toward a record on expectations there’ll be more stimulus to help the global economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Photographer: Andreas Gebert/Bloomberg

Police named two Air Canada employees among the suspects in the theft of millions of dollars in gold from a cargo facility at the country’s busiest airport, in what’s been dubbed Canada’s largest-ever gold heist.

Police in Peel Region, a Toronto suburb, identified nine men they believe were involved in the crime; they’ve arrested five and issued nationwide warrants for three others. The ninth person, the alleged driver of a five-ton truck that hauled away the gold and banknotes, is in US custody on firearms trafficking charges, a police detective said.

One of the Air Canada employees, a 54-year-old man named Parmpal Sidhu, was arrested and charged with theft over C$5,000 ($3,620) and conspiracy to commit an indictable offense. Police said they’re still looking for Simran Preet Panesar, 31, who’s no longer with the Montreal-based company, but worked there at the time of the incident. He’s facing the same charges.

The saga began when a Swiss bank and a precious metals refining company hired Brink’s Co. to move valuables from Zurich to Toronto. The shipment included about 400 kilograms of gold — worth about C$20 million at the time, police said — plus some C$2.5 million in foreign banknotes.

Brink’s arranged for Air Canada to fly the goods to Canada, and the plane landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on the afternoon of April 17, 2023, a year ago today. The gold bars and bills were then hauled to an Air Canada cargo warehouse where, at around 6:30 p.m., a driver showed up in a white truck, clutching a fraudulent document to claim the shipment.

That document, police said, was a duplicate of an air waybill for a seafood shipment that had been picked up the day before, Detective Sergeant Mike Mavity told reporters at a Wednesday news conference. The waybill had been printed within Air Canada’s facilities.

A short time later, a forklift loaded the gold and currency onto the truck. When Brink’s employees showed up three hours later to collect it, they were told it was missing.

“They needed people inside Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” Mavity said. One of the two employees who are now suspects actually led a tour of the facility for Peel Regional Police “before we knew his involvement,” the detective added.

The alleged driver of the truck, Durante King-Mclean, 25, was stopped by Pennsylvania State Police in early September. He fled on foot and was captured, and state troopers found 65 firearms in his vehicle that were allegedly destined for Canada. Police believe the stolen gold may have played a role in the firearms trafficking.

“This story is a sensational one and one which, probably, we jokingly say, belongs in a Netflix series,” Peel Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said at the conference.

King-Mclean and three others were charged in a US federal indictment, the Department of Justice said Tuesday. The charges stem from a conspiracy to engage in international firearms trafficking.

Of the two Air Canada employees who are alleged to be involved, one left the company before the arrests were announced Wednesday, and the other has been suspended, airline spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said. “We thank the police for their diligent efforts in investigating this matter,” he said, declining to comment further.

In October, Brink’s sued Air Canada, accusing the country’s largest airline of “negligence and carelessness.” Air Canada rejected the allegations.

Almost none of the gold has been recovered, though police did seize about C$430,000 in Canadian currency and six gold bracelets worth about C$89,000, as well as smelting pots and molds. Mavity said investigators believe the gold was melted down and reconstituted so that it could be resold.

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