$20M theft of gold, other items at Pearson likely needed insider knowledge: expert
April 24, 2023 By Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — The theft of more than $20 million worth of gold and other valuables from Toronto Pearson International Airport this week likely required insider knowledge of the airport and its operations, a security expert says.
Phil Boyle, associate professor of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo, said the theft would have required detailed information on where the high-value cargo was going to be and when.
“They knew what they were after and where to get it, and that involves having some sort of insider knowledge,” he said in an interview Friday.
“Certainly it was not an opportunistic smash-and-grab.”
Peel Regional Police said Thursday that they are investigating a “rare” cargo theft from an airport holding facility after the gold and other items were reported missing on Monday.
Insp. Stephen Duivesteyn said the crime took place in the early evening after a plane that arrived at the airport was unloaded and its cargo was transported to a holding facility.
The force revealed no specifics on how the valuables were stolen or potential suspects. It’s also not clear which airline shipped the cargo, where the gold was headed or where the plane came from.
Duivesteyn said the theft is believed to be an isolated incident and there are no concerns for travel or public safety at the airport.
The Greater Toronto Airports Authority wrote in a statement that thieves accessed the public side of a warehouse leased to a third party outside its “primary security line.”
“This did not involve access to Toronto Pearson itself and did not pose a threat to passengers or GTAA staff,” it wrote.
But the crime presents a larger concern about institutional weaknesses that allowed the theft to occur at Canada’s largest and busiest airport, said Boyle.
“I don’t see this being a lapse of airport security per se,” he said.
“But certainly it is a lapse of information control and how somebody working either directly for the airport or customs or for the shipping company had to have provided some information to tip people off to the opportunity that was there.”
Boyle said the thief or thieves were likely experienced criminals.
Whoever they are, they’re likely looking for quick ways to offload the high-value goods, which would likely involve organized crime groups who are able to liquidate items like diamonds or jewelry quickly and without detection, he said.
“That’s one thing the police will be looking for, unusual movements in those markets where people are trying to offload large amounts of merchandise fairly quickly,” said Boyle.
“That stuff could probably have left the country already just to make it a little bit easier.”
Police did not say whether the gold and other items are still in Canada or had been moved to another country.
Boyle anticipated a long-term investigation, but said police should eventually be able to come to some idea of who committed the crime, based on the high level of security present at airports. Whether they’re able to make arrests will be based on whether the perpetrators have left the country, he said.
“Really what’s at stake is not so much the perpetrators per se,” he said, “but what sort of institutional weaknesses allowed this to happen in the first place.”
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