Posted on July 19, 2017
Situated behind a bulletproof glass shield in the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany, the one of the six Big Maple Leaf coins sat on display for the world to see with its impressive 220 lbs (3,215 Troy oz) of .99999 pure gold. Yes, that’s right, 99.999% pure gold content. Just six of these massive coins were ever struck by the Royal Canadian Mint. Produced in 2007, one of the coins sits in permanent storage at the Ottawa facility of the RCM, and one was lent out to the Bode Museum in 2010 for display.
On the night of March 27, 2017, under the cover of darkness, thieves broke into the museum, bypassed the bulletproof glass and somehow managed to make a clean getaway with the massive Big Maple Leaf coin. Now that German authorities have arrested suspects in the case, it’s worth taking a look back at the saga of this stunning gold coin and its tragic disappearance from the numismatic world.
In 2007 the Royal Canadian Mint produced six Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coins that were affectionately known as the Big Maple Leaf. Each coin measured 1.2 inches thick and 21 inches in diameter. Each individual coin contained .99999 pure gold and had a total weight in Troy oz of 3,215. The coins were issued a face value of $1 million (CAD), but as of March 2017 the coins had a market value of $4 million (USD).
The coins featured the same obverse design as the traditional Canadian Gold Maple Leaf. Susanna Blunt’s 2003 depiction of Queen Elizabeth II adorned the obverse of the coin, with Her Majesty’s maturing dignity on display in the design without a crown or tiara. Blunt’s design is just the second-ever effigy of the Queen on RCM coinage that does not feature a British monarch with a crown. Engravings on this side included “1 Million Dollars,” “2007,” “1 Million De Dollars,” and “Elizabeth II.”
On the reverse, the Royal Canadian Mint went with a slight tweak on the typical Maple Leaf design. Rather than the singular sugar maple leaf on the popular bullion coins, RCM artist and senior engraver Stan Witten designed a stylized maple leaf cluster of three clusters. Engravings on the reverse included “Canada,” “Fine Gold 100 KG OR PUR,” and “99999.” The maple leaf design on this face was hand-polished and stylized by Witten.
The fact that the thieves were able to get in and out of the museum without notice when stealing the Big Maple Leaf has been described as an “Ocean’s Eleven” inspired theft. In reality, authorities later released details pointing to an entirely rudimentary process. The group of thieves used a ladder to access a museum window for entry. An ax was used to break the bulletproof glass encasing the coin, and it was hauled out to a getaway car using a wheelbarrow. Despite making off with one of the six largest, purest gold coins in the world, German authorities were stumped for months.
On Wednesday, July 12th, a group of German special police commandos wearing balaclavas raided a home in Berlin’s Neukolln district. Four individuals were arrested in connection with the robbery at the Bode Museum back in March. For the first time, details began to emerge about the group behind the theft and the fate of the Big Maple Leaf. Three of the men arrested during the raid belonged to an organized crime family with Lebanese ties. The group is well known to police in Berlin, and is due to Germany privacy laws is referred to simply as the “R. Family.”
During a search of the property, authorities found only a crowbar they believe was used to pry open the window and perhaps bust into the case along with the ax during the robbery. Beyond that, little evidence was found at the scene. A nearby jewelry shop on Sonnenallee was searched by police as well. Located on a street heavily populated with immigrants from the Middle East and ties to the Lebanese family, it’s presumed the shop may have helped the thieves move the coin out of Germany, either in part or in its entirety.
Oddly enough, clues leading authorities to the suspects in Neukolln came from clues obtained by police before the theft actually occurred. A young man was pulled over on March 8 by German police for driving a car with stolen plates after the driver had stolen gasoline. Inside his vehicle, police found tools that could be used in a break in and brochures for the Bode Museum were also found.
The individual in question had recently taken a job as a guard at the Bode Museum, and police believe he passed along information on the gold coin to those involved in the theft, who then devised a plan to steal the coin.
In the aftermath of the theft back in the spring, German authorities released security footage of the theft at the museum. In those videos the thieves can be seen dropping the massive gold coin numerous times, leading German investigators to believe the coin sustained significant damage during the theft. The jewelry shop was raided, in part, because it is believed the coin may have been broken into pieces at the shop for easier transport out of the country. Other theories in the immediate aftermath suggest the coin was probably melted down and reformed as gold bars.
Whatever the truth is behind the caper, German police have little belief the coin will ever be found. Carsten Pfohl, an investigator for Berlin’s criminal police office said “We assume that it was sold in pieces or in its entirety.” Pfohl went on to say the chances the coin is ever found are “unfortunately relatively slight.”
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