No sign of the “Big Maple Leaf”, worth over $4 million US
By CoinWeek News Staff ….
Last week, German authorities released closed-circuit surveillance footage of three suspects allegedly responsible for the March 27 theft of the 220-pound “Big Maple Leaf” gold coin from the Bode Museum in Berlin.
Ultimately, however, the suspects were tracked down through DNA left at the scene of the crime.
Earlier today, about 300 heavily-armed police commandos in balaclavas raided multiple apartments in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukölln. Paramedics were also present. Two men were arrested; at least one individual was escorted away in a hood or other garment covering his head to protect his identity.
“We assume that the two suspects match the ones seen on the video footage from surveillance cameras,” police spokesman Winfrid Wenzel told the Associated Press.
The alleged thieves are part of a large “Arabic-Kurdish” family known to local authorities for its involvement in racketeering, drug smuggling and the arms trade. The Neukölln district has one of the highest immigrant populations in Berlin.
Police also searched apartments for the coin itself, though its whereabouts remain unknown. Wenzel was quoted as saying that several search warrants were executed around the city in regards to this crime. Numismatists and German police suspect that the thieves melted the coin as soon as possible in order to sell the gold. Spokesman Wenzel added that a common trick employed by criminals is to add copper to the gold during the melting process in order to alter the purity and perhaps escape detection.
A neighborhood jewelry store with possible links to the sale of gold from the heist was also searched, and a car was seized. Inside the vehicle were a balaclava and a knife, alleged to have been used in the commission of the crime.
The 2007 Big Maple Leaf
The Royal Canadian Mint struck the record-holding .99999 fine, 100-kilogram gold coin known as the “Big Maple Leaf” in 2007. Only five were ever produced. With a face value of a mere $1 million CAD ($770,000 USD at the time of publication), the coin–20.9 inches in diameter, 1.2 inches thick and weighing approximately 220 pounds–contains over $4 million worth of gold at current prices.
It was loaned to the Bode Museum in 2010 by a private owner who remains anonymous.
Located on an island (Museum Island) in the Spree River that flows through Berlin, thieves allegedly climbed onto an elevated train track located between the Hackescher Markt & Friedrichstrasse train stations and used a ladder to access a museum window. Once they broke in, a heavy instrument was used to smash the bullet-proof glass cabinet surrounding the coin. It was then loaded onto a wheelbarrow and carried out of the building and along the train tracks until the thieves were across the river. At this point they used a length of rope to climb down from the tracks and drove away in a car.
No alarm went off, and security personnel failed to notice the break-in until after the fact.
Below is the footage released last week of the three suspects as they make their way around the train stations, courtesy of the Berlin Morning Post.
CoinWeek will continue to update this fast-breaking story as it develops.
UPDATE: According to CoinWeek contributor Sebastian Wieschowski, German authorities at a press conference have announced the arrest of four people related to the heist, with a total of 13 individuals suspected of involvement. The four currently in custody are all under the age of 21, and will therefore be charged as minors.
Police also state that the suspects attempted to break into the museum six days prior on March 21, but for some reason were not successful. Authorities do not believe that the coin will be recovered in one piece.
UPDATE, 7/13/2017: According to a report by the New York Times, one of the four youths arrested during Wednesday’s raids in the Neukölln disctrict was a security guard at the Bode Museum who had started working there mere weeks before the robbery. None of those arrested have criminal records. The other three arrestees have ties to the aforementioned smuggling ring, as do nine additional suspects currently wanted by German police. More than one vehicle was seized during the raids, as were four shotguns and a large amount of cash. Shoes and clothing were also taken into custody for further examination.
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Email exchange with author and numismatist Sebastian Wieschowski
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