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Was Pearson heist an ‘inside job?’ Questions swirl with $20M in gold, goods stolen

Click to play video: '$20 million gold heist at Pearson'
$20 million gold heist at Pearson
WATCH: A container carrying $20 million in gold and other valuables was stolen from Pearson airport this week – Apr 21, 2023

As Toronto-area police probe $20 million worth of stolen gold and other “high-value” items at Canada’s largest airport, experts say the heist has elements of an “inside job.”

Peel Regional Police, who investigate crime in the cities of Mississauga and Brampton, are probing how a container carrying the gold and other pricey goods vanished from Toronto Pearson International Airport earlier this week.

The heist, which made international headlines Thursday, has the hallmarks of an inside job, said Stephen Schneider, a criminology professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

“It certainly sounds like something that was planned, premeditated and obviously required some level of organization not simply to access the gold, but to be able to remove it from the airport,” he told Global News.

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Click to play video: 'Container with $20M in gold, ‘high value’ items stolen in Pearson airport heist'
Container with $20M in gold, ‘high value’ items stolen in Pearson airport heist

“This is something that goes on at ports of entry all the time — the theft of the cargo — but very rarely is the value of the cargo this expensive or this valuable.”

No suspect information

According to Peel Regional Police Insp. Stephen Duivesteyn, an aircraft carrying the precious cargo landed at Pearson on Monday evening. Its cargo was transported to a holding facility where it was “removed by illegal means.”

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“We’re looking at all angles on how this item was stolen, so I don’t really have a lot of details on how it was stolen to provide or any suspect,” Duivesteyn told reporters Thursday. He didn’t say which airline shipped the cargo, where the cargo was headed, or where the plane came from.

“We’re unable to provide specifics to this investigation because we’re three days in.”

Peel Police Insp. Stephen Duivesteyn speaks to the media regarding a theft at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday. Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press

Police had no new information to share as of publication time Friday.

The public first became aware of the heist Thursday. Earlier that day, the RCMP told Global News that Peel police was investigating a “gold heist” at Pearson. The force’s airport division has been leading the investigation.

The “very rare” theft is believed to be an isolated incident, Duivesteyn said.

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The facility where the heist occurred isn’t managed by Pearson’s operator, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). It made that point in a statement Thursday night.

“The GTAA wishes to clarify that thieves accessed the public side of a warehouse that is leased to a third party, outside of our primary security line,” a spokesperson said.

“This did not involve access to Toronto Pearson itself and did not pose a threat to passengers or GTAA staff.”

Click to play video: 'Container with $20M in gold, ‘high value’ items stolen in Pearson airport heist'
Container with $20M in gold, ‘high value’ items stolen in Pearson airport heist

If the facility was managed by the authority, it would have “very high sophisticated security everywhere,” said Patrick Straw, executive director of the Canadian Security Association.

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Regardless, $20 million worth of cargo would have warranted high security at the facility, he said.

“Not only would there be physical protection, surveillance and everything else, but generally the whole procedures from what happens in money handling right from the time it’s removed off of a vehicle and put into a storage facility and picked up, everything has to be logged in and out — there’s usually fairly sophisticated procedures to negate something like this happening,” he said.

“If somebody who works in the facility, who is authorized to be there, is involved in the process — it’s way easier (to steal) … it would be surprising … if somebody just randomly walked in and took it, because it’s not a very easy thing to do in those kinds of warehouses.”

Gold, goods likely ‘long gone’

During Thursday’s news conference, Duivesteyn stopped short of saying it was a professional job.

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But police are likely probing the idea of an inside job with links to organized crime, Schneider said.

“The two are linked in the sense that criminal groups are known to have operatives work at official ports of entry … the first thing they’ll look at is: to what extent was this an inside job? The second thing they’ll look at, given the fact it was so organized, (is) … individuals or groups that may have been involved in cargo theft in the past, groups that are capable of carrying this out that would have the equipment, the means to do so,” he said.

“You’re looking at … identifying individuals who would be capable of carrying this out, and even possibly doing everything possible to try to track these goods down … (but) it’s pretty much guaranteed the goods are probably out of Ontario and perhaps even on a cargo ship heading out of Port of Montreal or Halifax, somewhere to Europe or Africa.”

Click to play video: 'Police seize over 50 stolen luxury vehicles at Port of Montreal'
Police seize over 50 stolen luxury vehicles at Port of Montreal

Selling those goods would be tough, but it’s much easier to get them out of the country and sell it on the black market, Schneider suggested.

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“In Toronto … there are tens of millions of dollars worth of luxury cars that are stolen every year from the GTA that are shipped off through the Port of Montreal or Halifax to Africa, to Eastern Europe, to the Middle East,” he said.

“It’s not the bulk or even the value that’s the important variable — it’s the internal conspiracies inside a port that are able to manipulate the data to get past customs … that’s why I say something like this is obviously well-organized and obviously someone on the inside (is) helping out.”

— with files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson, Kyle Benning and The Canadian Press

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