4 held over theft of 100kg gold coin from museum

The 100kg gold coin was stolen from a Berlin museum on March 27. A screen grab from surveillance footage taken that day at the Hackescher Markt train station reportedly shows three of the suspects.
The 100kg gold coin was stolen from a Berlin museum on March 27. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BERLIN • German police have arrested four suspects linked to an Arabic criminal clan over the spectacular theft of a 100kg gold coin from a Berlin museum early this year.

But they found no sign of the loot - Canada's "Big Maple Leaf" coin, which has a face value of C$1 million (S$1.1 million) and estimated to be worth €3.75 million (S$5.9 million) on the gold market.

Police fear the treasure "was either cut into small pieces or taken abroad" since the March 27 night- time heist, said Mr Carsten Pfohl of the Berlin criminal police office.

"Unfortunately we have to presume that it was sold off in parts or whole," he told a press conference. "My hope that we'll recover even parts of the coin is unfortunately relatively low."

Around 300 police took part in dawn raids at 14 locations, including apartments and a jeweller's shop in Berlin's Neukoelln district and targets in surrounding Brandenburg state.

Police said the four unidentified suspects, aged 18 to 20, and nine other suspects were all members of, or closely connected to, a Berlin organised crime group with an Arabic family clan at its core.

Two service staff members at the state body that runs Berlin's museums were among those being investigated by the police, the body's chief of security Hans-Juergen Harras told the national news agency DPA.

The 100kg gold coin was stolen from a Berlin museum on March 27. A screen grab from surveillance footage taken that day at the Hackescher Markt train station reportedly shows three of the suspects.
The 100kg gold coin was stolen from a Berlin museum on March 27. A screen grab from surveillance footage taken that day at the Hackescher Markt train station reportedly shows three of the suspects. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The thieves stole the gold coin from the Bode Museum on the capital's Museum Island on March 27.

The commemorative coin was issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007 and features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

The thieves used a ladder, rope and a wheelbarrow to carry away the huge coin with a diameter of 53cm, which a private individual had loaned to the museum.

It was probably damaged when the thieves dropped it twice.

Video surveillance footage from a nearby railway station released by police this month showed three men wearing dark clothes, their faces obscured by hoodies, high collars and their hands.

Berlin's chief prosecutor Martina Lamb said the footage also showed the suspects making previous "scope-out" trips for the heist, on March 17 and 21, before carrying out the theft.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline '4 held over theft of 100kg gold coin from museum'. Print Edition | Subscribe