Connect with us

Shopping

Toronto Pearson gold heist loot was melted in jewelry store forge

Published

on

Equipment that turns molten gold into jewelry was found by police in the store and had been allegedly used to transform much of the $20-million in stolen gold

Get the latest from Adrian Humphreys straight to your inbox

Article content

Police say a large quantity — but not all — of the 400 kilograms of nearly pure bullion bars stolen in the Toronto airport gold heist was melted and transformed in a workshop in the basement of a local jewelry store.

Smelting equipment used to turn molten gold into long, thin strips, and another machine that can twist and shape metal into bracelets were found by police inside the basement forge that included an oxy-acetylene torch, crucibles, metal tongs, and moulds.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

The equipment was seized by investigators on Project 24K, the Peel Regional Police task force that announced surprise arrests Wednesday, on the anniversary of the heist of gold from an Air Canada cargo warehouse within hours of it arriving on a flight from Switzerland.

Investigators believe the equipment was used to turn the traceable, serial numbered bricks of 99.99 per cent pure gold bars into untraceable pieces of jewelry, said Detective Sergeant Mike Mavity, case manager for Project 24K.

The jewelry store was in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We believe a large quantity of the gold, but not all of it, was melted down there,” he told National Post. “I can’t get into specifics at this time why we believe that, but I can say it is through our investigation.”

Mavity also confirmed the driver who came to collect the gold removed a glove from his left hand during the transaction, leaving behind a wayward fingerprint on paperwork used to facilitate the fraudulent pick up of the load.

“Yes, through fingerprint examination, supported by additional police investigative techniques, we identified him as the driver,” he said.

Advertisement 3

Article content

gold bracelets
Bracelets seized by police made of gold. Police believe they were forged in the shop basement from the stolen gold. Photo by Peel Regional Police

The smelting and jewelry equipment was allegedly used to make gold bracelets that look like cheap bangles, but because they are almost pure gold, they are valuable. Police found six bracelets, worth about $90,000.

The bracelets seized by police were not found at the jewelry store foundry, but Mavity believes they were made there. That is the only portion of the missing gold so far recovered.

If most of the gold was melted in that workshop forge, there must have been a lot of bracelets or other pieces moving out, and a lot of time spent using small-scale methods to melt so much gold.

If police are right, the bandits prepared for the transformation of their loot as carefully as they plotted how to steal it.

“It is our opinion only that some of the gold has likely made its way into overseas markets that are gold trading hubs, by, for instance, forming it into the bracelets we found, and that some of it has been reconstituted into local markets,” Mavity said.

“From speaking to industry experts, once you melt it down there is no DNA, so to speak (to trace back to the gold bars).”

Forge
Metal forging equipment police found in the basement of a Toronto-area jewelry store allegedly used to melt gold from the Toronto airport gold heist. Photo by Peel Regional Police

That is part of the strong allure of gold for criminals. Along with its resilient value and universal acceptance as a form of currency, gold is easy to transform and always finds a buyer.

Article content

Advertisement 4

Article content

Gold can even be melted in a robust household microwave.

The trick for crooks is to mask the origin of the gold so it can be resold into the legitimate marketplace, where it gets melted and transformed and sold again and again, eventually becoming wedding rings, investment coins, art, tooth fillings, cell phones and other electronics, and more gold bars for someone else to keep — or lose.

Illicit gold comes to refineries from several sources, including diversion from large-scale mining, so-called artisanal mining done with little equipment and often at abandoned mine sites in developing countries, and what’s called recycled gold, said Joanne Lebert, executive director of IMPACT, a Canadian group working on natural resource management where security and human rights are at risk.

Recycled gold can be anything from old jewelry, old coins, or any other gold thrown into the melting pot with it, including stolen gold, or gold mined using slave or child labour, Lebert said. It is often used to mask the origin of illicit gold to help sell it to refiners who turn a blind eye to its unsavoury source.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Metal forging equipment
Metal forging equipment police found in the basement of a Toronto-area jewelry store allegedly used to melt gold from the Toronto airport gold heist. Photo by Peel Regional Police

“Illicit gold can find its way into legal supply chains through trading centres and through refiners who don’t actually do their due diligence,” Lebert said. “It’s a way to essentially camouflage illicit gold as something legitimate because there’s so much more appetite for gold that’s labeled recycled, because it’s not perceived as being dirty gold.”

There are a lot of ways to smuggle gold, short distances or long: Boats pulling into Miami harbour with metal fixtures secretly made of solid gold; industrial parts shipped from Hong Kong cast from gold but painted to look like steel; travellers wearing gold jewellery on international flights; a car exported to Europe with gold hidden in its fenders; mine or mint employees leaving with gold hidden in their rectum.

The vehicle used to transport the stolen gold
The vehicle used to transport the stolen gold from Toronto’s Pearson airport. Photo by Peel Regional Police

Private investigator David Bolton, of Miami-based Bolton Investigations, once worked for a large metal refinery and has investigated several gold heists and smuggled gold cases.

“This appears to be a very organized group. They had a clear plan for executing the robbery so they would have a plan for getting rid of the gold,” he said of the April 2023 heist from Toronto’s Pearson airport.

Advertisement 6

Article content

“They have probably reshaped it and found some way to funnel it to another country, which I imagine would be Dubai, which is really lax in terms of regulations on what’s imported. Lately there has been a lot of gold transported over to Dubai.

Maybe they need pocket change in the meantime, before the gold is transported to Dubai

“They could also be reselling some of it locally,” Bolton said.

“Maybe they need pocket change in the meantime, before the gold is transported to Dubai and wire transfers are sent to a third country and they would be able to access the funds. That could be months down the road, and they might need some funds in the meantime.”

He said Miami and South Florida have been hotspots for illicit gold for years.

There is a connection to Florida in the Toronto gold case: The alleged driver of the truck removing the gold from the warehouse, Durante King-Mclean, 25, of Brampton, Ont., was staying at an Airbnb in Fort Lauderdale, FL, after the heist, where he allegedly bought handguns to be smuggled back into Canada with some of the gold proceeds.

Cargo West facility
A shipment worth $20 million disappeared from this Air Canada cargo holding facility known as Cargo West at Toronto’s Pearson airport. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Jalisa Edwards, 25, a woman from Ft. Lauderdale, was indicted in the United States with King-Mclean for alleged gun running, along with Prasath Paramalingam, 35, also from Brampton. Paramalingam allegedly flew to New York with money for King-Mclean and returned via Miami.

Advertisement 7

Article content

King-Mclean and Paramalingam are accused in both the guns and the gold case.

Mavity, however, said investigators do not believe the stolen gold was taken to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.

When Peel police announced Wednesday, they had solved the baffling airport gold heist, they provided plenty of details on how bandits allegedly made off with it, but much less on what they did with it once they had that dizzying amount of sparkling loot.

Recommended from Editorial

The stolen shipping container was filled with 6,600 variously sized bars of almost pure gold, weighing 400.19 kilograms, that arrived on a plane from Switzerland. It was worth about $20 million at the time, but gold has been on a run lately.

The loot would be worth more than $30 million today.

The plot was allegedly an inside job, helped, police said, by two Air Canada employees at the warehouse.

Simran Preet Panesar, 31, of Brampton was an Air Canada employee at the time of the theft but resigned a few months after the heist. He is wanted and considered a fugitive.

Advertisement 8

Article content

Parmpal Sidhu, 54, of Brampton, was named as an Air Canada employee. He was suspended by Air Canada after his arrest, the airline said.

Both face charges of theft over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

Mavity won’t yet reveal what alleged roles the two airline employees played in the heist, but he said neither of them was the forklift driver nor the employee who received the fraudulent airway bill from the driver.

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | X: AD_Humphreys

Our website is the place for the latest breaking news, exclusive scoops, longreads and provocative commentary. Please bookmark nationalpost.com and sign up for our daily newsletter, Posted, here.

Article content

Get the latest from Adrian Humphreys straight to your inbox

Continue Reading