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'They needed people inside Air Canada': Police announce arrests in Pearson gold heist

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Police say one former and one current employee of Air Canada are among the nine suspects that are facing charges in connection with the gold heist at Pearson International Airport last year.

At a news conference Wednesday on the one-year anniversary of the heist, police confirmed that five suspects were arrested and four others are facing charges in connection with the largest gold theft in Canadian history.

Police said the suspects face a total of 19 charges and Canada-wide warrants have been issued for the arrest of three of the suspects who have not yet been apprehended. All of the suspects arrested in connection with the heist have been released on bail, police confirmed in a news release issued Wednesday.

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah said the heist was “carefully planned” by a “well-organized group of criminals.”

“This story is a sensational one and one which probably, we jokingly say, belongs in a Netflix series,” he said.

Police said 6,600 gold bars were stolen from Air Canada’s cargo facility on the evening of April 17, 2023 by a suspect who arrived at the warehouse in a five-tonne delivery truck.

Four suspects who are wanted in connection with a gold heist at Pearson airport are shown. They are from left to right: Simran Preet Panesar, Archit Grover, Durante King-Mclean and Arsalan Chaudhary. (Peel Regional Police)The gold, along with about $2.5 million in foreign currency, had been shipped to Toronto from Zurich in the hull of an Air Canada plane and was offloaded to an Air Canada cargo facility shortly after the flight landed at Pearson Airport that afternoon.

Police allege that the suspect came into possession of the stolen gold and bank notes after presenting Air Canada personnel with a fraudulent airway bill.

“The airway bill was for a legitimate shipment of seafood that was picked up the day before,” Det.-Sgt. Mike Mavity, the major case manager for the joint investigation, dubbed Project 24K, told reporters on Wednesday.

“This duplicate airway bill was printed off from a printer within Air Canada cargo.”

A suspect and suspect vehicle are pictured during a news conference about a gold heist at Perason Airport. (Handout /Peel Police)Mavity said a forklift arrived a short time later and loaded the stolen gold and currency into the back of the truck. The suspect then drove off with the gold bars, which were estimated to be worth about $20 million.

Brinks Canada, which was hired to provide security and logistics services for the transportation of the shipment, showed up at the facility a few hours later to pick up the items, police said.

According to investigators, when Air Canada employees tried to locate the container, they realized it was missing and quickly launched an internal investigation. Police were notified about the stolen goods shortly before 3 a.m. the following day, Mavity said.

Air Canada launches probe

An exhaustive investigation followed, police said, with officers reviewing video surveillance footage from 225 businesses and residences in an effort to track the path of the truck, which has since been recovered.

Mavity said that last summer, they identified 25-year-old Durante King-McLean as the driver of the truck but were unable to locate him.

In September 2023, Mavity said King-McLean was stopped in rental vehicle by Pennsylvania State Police near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

"After a brief foot chase, he was detained and troopers located 65 illegal firearms in the vehicle,” Mavity said Wednesday.

According to Mavity, investigators believe that the stolen gold was melted down and sold and the proceeds were used to purchase illegal guns for a firearms trafficking operation.

He said members of Project 24K have been liaising with the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau (ATF) with respect to this aspect of the investigation.

Speaking at the news conference on Wednesday, a representative from the ATF said the law enforcement agency believes the 65 guns seized during the arrest of King-McLean were bound for Canada.

While King-McLean is currently in custody in the United States, he is now wanted on multiple charges in connection with the gold theft.

“We are alleging that some individuals who participated in this gold theft are also involved in aspects of this firearms trafficking,” Mavity added.

Gold taken during a heist at Pearson airport is shown being loaded into the back of the suspect's truck in this image taken from surveillance footage released by police. (Peel Regional Police)Officers in Peel Region executed 37 search warrants in connection with Project 24K and police said only small quantity of the gold was recovered. Six gold bracelets, worth about $89,000, were seized, jewelry that police believe was made out of some of the gold that was stolen. Police said $434,000 in Canadian currency was also seized during the investigation. Officers believe that money was obtained through the sale of some of the stolen gold.

Two “debt lists” were found by investigators at separate locations during the investigation, police said.

“A common term in drug trafficking investigations, we believe these lists actually show where the money was distributed when the gold was sold by the suspects,” Mavity said.

He said the names on both lists are “consistent” and police are trying to identify all of those identified.

Six pure gold bracelets worth an estimated $89,000 were recovered as part of an investigation into a gold heist at Toronto Pearson airport and are displayed in this image from Peel police. (Handout)

'They needed people inside Air Canada'

Police said one current Air Canada employee, identified as 54-year-old Brampton resident Parmpal Sidhu, has been charged with theft over $5,000 and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. A Canada-wide warrant has been issued 31-year-old Simran Preet Panesar, who police said resigned from his position as a manager at Air Canada back in the summer.

“He has been known to us since early on in the investigation. He actually led a tour for Peel Regional Police before we knew his involvement,” Mavity said Wednesday.

He added that police have an idea where Panesar may be but did not elaborate on a possible location.

Mavity said he believes the suspects needed employees on the inside to carry out the heist.

“Because of their position within Air Canada, in my opinion, yeah they needed people inside Air Canada to facilitate this theft,” he said.

In a statement, an Air Canada spokesperson confirmed that the two people who police identified did work for the airline 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,” the spokesperson said.

“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.”

A map showing the alleged movements of vehicles during a gold heist at Toronto Pearson Airport is displayed during a news conference Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

Correction

Police initially said nine suspects had been arrested in the case but later clarified that three of the nine suspects are wanted on Canada-wide warrants while a fourth is in custody in the United States

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