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9 face charges as investigators link Canada’s biggest gold theft to weapons trafficking

A man in a suit standing on the back of a cargo truck and opening it
Police show a recovered truck at a news conference Wednesday on Project 24K, a joint investigation linking the Toronto Pearson International Airport heist to weapons seized by the U.S. and allegedly meant for trafficking into Canada.
(Arlyn McAdorey / Associated Press)
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Police said nine people are facing charges in what authorities are calling the biggest gold theft in Canadian history from Toronto’s Pearson International airport a year ago.

Peel Regional Police said Wednesday that 6,600 gold bars worth more than $14.5 million U.S. and $1.8 million worth of foreign currencies were stolen. The gold was melted down and used to purchase illegal firearms, police said.

Those charged include an Air Canada warehouse employee and a former Air Canada manager who gave police a tour of cargo at the facility after the theft. A jewelry store owner is also charged.

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

Peel Regional Det. Sgt. Mike Mavity said the gold bars, weighing 923 pounds, and foreign currency ordered from a refinery in Zurich were transported in the haul of an Air Canada flight on April 17 last year.

Armed thieves ambushed a private plane as it taxied down a runway Saturday and fled with about $13.7 million in gold ingots and other valuables in one of Canada’s largest robberies, police said.

Dec. 2, 1990

Late that afternoon, Mavity said, a truck driver arrived at the airline’s cargo warehouse and gave an airline warehouse attendant a fraudulent document.

He said that the bill, for seafood that had been picked up the day before, was used to pick up the gold, and that the duplicate bill had been printed out at the Air Canada warehouse.

“They needed people within Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” Mavity said as he stood in front of the truck police say was used in the theft.

Mavity said police are searching for the Air Canada manager who gave police a tour of the facility in the days after the theft. He said that manager left the job last summer and they have an idea of where he is.

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Mavity said some of the suspects were known to police and some were not. He said they had also seized six crudely made bracelets made of gold.

“I don’t think I ever imagined they would have to deal with the largest gold heist in Canadian history,” said Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ontario. “It’s almost out of an ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ movie or ‘CSI.’”

Federal and local law enforcement officials have descended on a nondescript warehouse in the San Fernando Valley, where one of the biggest heists in Los Angeles history occurred Easter Sunday.

April 6, 2024

Air Canada employee Parmpal Sidhu, 54, of Brampton; jewelry store owner Ali Raza, 37, of Toronto; Amit Jalota, 40, of Oakville, Ontario; Ammad Chaudhary, 43, of Georgetown, Ontario; and Prasath Paramalingam, 35, of Brampton are among those who have been arrested. Mavity said they had been released on bail and are to appear in court at a later date.

He said the truck driver accused of picking up the gold, Durante King-Mclean, a 25-year-old from Brampton, is in custody in the U.S. on charges related to firearms and trafficking.

Police are searching for former Air Canada manager Simran Preet Panesar, 31, of Brampton as well as Archit Grover, 36, of Brampton and Arsalan Chaudhary, 42, of Mississauga, Ontario.

Peel Regional Deputy Chief Nick Milinovich said police had recovered only $65,000 of the more than $14.5 million that was stolen.

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Special Agent Eric DeGree of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said King-Mclean was arrested in Pennsylvania after a traffic stop that led to the seizure of 65 illegal firearms, which were allegedly destined to be smuggled into Canada. DeGree said King-Mclean had tried to flee after police discovered the firearms in his rental car.

Police arrested a 37-year-old man in connection with $5 million in stolen Nike gear found at a raid on a warehouse in Hawthorne, Commercial Crimes Division Cargo Theft Unit announced Monday.

Jan. 30, 2024

Employees of Brink’s, the American cash-handling company, arrived at the airport cargo facility the night of last April 17 to pick up the shipment, and after a search were told that the gold and currency was missing.

Brink’s sued Air Canada over the theft last year. According to the company’s filing last year, a thief walked away with the costly cargo after presenting a fake document at an Air Canada warehouse that day.

In a Nov. 8 statement of defense, Air Canada rejected “each and every allegation” in the Brink’s lawsuit, saying it had fulfilled its carriage contracts and denying any improper or “careless” conduct.

Canada’s largest airline also said Brink’s failed to note the value of the haul on the waybill — a document typically issued by a carrier with details of the shipment — and that if Brink’s did suffer losses, a multilateral treaty known as the Montreal Convention would limit Air Canada’s liability.

When art museums return looted objects to source countries, usually it’s in response to demands. Not this time.

Feb. 5, 2024

In federal court filings that claim breach of contract and millions of dollars in damages, Brink’s said an “unidentified individual” had gained access to the airline’s cargo warehouse and presented a “fraudulent” waybill shortly after an Air Canada flight from Zurich landed at Pearson.

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The statement of the claim says the staff then handed over the gold in the form of 24 bars plus $1.8 million in cash to the thief, who promptly “absconded with the cargo.”

DeGree said dozens of firearms had been seized, including two fully automatic weapons and five guns that were untraceable.

“I’m proud to say that we successfully put an international gun trafficking operation out of business. We kept 65 firearms off the streets of Canada and prevented them from being used in any number of crimes,” the U.S. ATF agent said.

Mavity said that police believe the suspects bought the weapons with profits from the gold they’re accused of melting down.

Gillies writes for the Associated Press.

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