Gold stolen from Toronto airport was not insured, Air Canada claims in denying responsibility

Airline breaks its silence on Pearson airport gold heist mystery after $20-million load was stolen when it arrived in Toronto on a flight from Switzerland

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The cargo container stuffed with gold bars and millions in cash that was stolen from Toronto’s Pearson airport was not insured, according to Air Canada, as the airline denies responsibility for the shocking theft from its cargo facility.

The airline breaks its silence on the alarming theft — the cargo container of $20 million in gold and US$2 million in cash was taken shortly after it arrived on an Air Canada jet from Switzerland — in a statement of defence filed in court in response to a lawsuit by Brink’s, a secure transport company.

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The airline’s statement, obtained by National Post, adds details on the mysterious cargo, including that the missing gold was forged into 24 gold bars.

Air Canada denies allegations by Brink’s of lax security and negligence in allowing the cargo to be collected by an unknown and unauthorized person less than an hour after arriving at its warehouse on the periphery of the airport.

The airline alleges Brink’s shipped the cargo without declaring its value, without insurance, and without paying extra for additional security.

“Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. did not request from or pay to Air Canada for any insurance with respect to the cargo carried under this air waybill nor, to Air Canada’s knowledge, did Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. obtain any such insurance at all,” the statement of defence says.

“Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. was at all times a sophisticated party to the subject (of) contracts of carriage by air,” it says.

“Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. elected for its own reasons not to declare a value for carriage and to pay the standard rate for the AC Secure services product and, to Air Canada’s knowledge, elected not to insure these shipments.

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“Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. did so of its own volition and while fully aware the consequences.”

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Despite disagreement on fault and compensation, both companies largely agree on the circumstances of the cargo’s travel and that it is now long gone.

In April, Peel Regional Police announced the shock theft of gold from Pearson airport after the shipment arrived on an Air Canada flight from Zurich, Switzerland.

It was soon evocatively branded as a gold heist and, with few details revealed, public imagination ran wild.

The gold has not been found and no arrests have been made.

In Air Canada’s statement of defence, the airline says that Brink’s Switzerland Ltd. booked space with Air Canada for air transport of two shipments from Zurich to Toronto Canada on April 14.

One was for gold bars and the other for bulk cash.

Transport was booked by Brink’s for AC Secure service.

Air Canada said AC Secure “provides for special handling of high-value cargo and includes extra security, higher load priority and shorter time for tender and retrieval of cargo.”

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The airline issued two air waybill numbers to Brink’s for the cargo, the airline says.

Air Canada says that Brink’s then sent back a final master waybill notation for each shipment, adding the letters “ZRH,” which is the airport code for Zurich Airport.

The consignee for the gold was identified on the waybill as The Toronto Dominion Bank.

The cargo was described as 24 gold bars weighing 400.19 kilograms but Brink’s did not declare a value, or an insurance value, on either the waybill or the custom’s declaration, Air Canada claims.

The consignee for the bank notes was identified on the waybill as Vancouver Bullion and Currency Exchange.

That cargo was described as three pieces with a gross weight of 53.18 kilograms. There was no declared value for the currency either, the defence statement says.

In its claim, Brink’s said the bank notes totalled US$1,945,843 and were shipped by a Swiss bank called Raiffeisen Schweiz, and the gold was shipped by Valcambi SA, a precious metals refining company in Switzerland, valued at more than $20.4 million.

The cargo covered by both waybills was carried, apparently sharing one cargo container, from Zurich to Toronto on Air Canada Flight AC881, departing and arriving on April 17.

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The Brink’s lawsuit claims the shipment was easily stolen because of lax security by Air Canada at its cargo handling facility.

It describes the heist as being as easy as walking into Air Canada’s cargo facility, showing a false waybill, and leaving with the cargo, according to Brink’s lawsuit filed in court.

It was gone 42 minutes after it was unloaded from a plane and transferred to a warehouse, according to information in the claim. The timing of the theft is not addressed in Air Canada’s defence.

Although the airline explicitly denies security lapses at the Air Canada cargo facility from where the gold was boosted, it does not address details of Brink’s complaints of the cargo’s handling.

Miami-based Brink’s is trying to recover the cost of the stolen goods from Air Canada. Brink’s contracts often promise to reimburse any losses to their clients.

The lawsuit was filed in Federal Court because international shipments are regulated by the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that is incorporated into Canadian law.

That point is not lost on Air Canada.

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The airline says that Brink’s claim is about the international carriage of goods and are exclusively protected by the convention, which, it argues, excludes Brink’s large loss claim.

The convention sets a limit for loss of cargo unless special prior arrangements have been made and an additional sum paid for added protection, if required, Air Canada says.

Air Canada claims Brink’s did not take steps that would allow it to go beyond the convention’s monetary limit of liability.

None of the statements or allegations filed in the lawsuit documents have been tested in court.

Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Air Canada decline to comment on the development, saying: “As this is a court matter we have nothing to add.”

Brink’s could not provide a comment prior to publication deadline.

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