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Progress made in gold coin theft

 (Image courtesy Marcel Mettelsiefen/European Pressphoto Agency)

(Image courtesy Marcel Mettelsiefen/European Pressphoto Agency)

An organized crime family might have been responsible for the theft of a massive 100 kilogram Canadian gold Maple Leaf coin from the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany, according to the Berlin prosecutor’s office.

The $1 million face value coin is dated 2007. It has a diameter of 50 centimeters, is 3 centimeters thick, and has a purity of 0.99999 fine. Each of the six examples minted by the Royal Canadian Mint has an estimated intrinsic value of about $3.5 million, depending on the spot price of gold. The coin was designed by Stanley Witten. Queen Elizabeth II appears on the obverse, with maple leaves being depicted on the reverse.

Five of the six coins were sold to private parties, the sixth being kept in storage in Ottawa. In early 2017, the example on display at the Bode Museum was stolen. It had been there for about 10 years and has been acknowledged to have been on loan by its anonymous owner. The “Big Maple Leaf,” as the coin is known, was the only thing taken in the theft.

The Bode Museum has one of the largest coin collections in the world. According to the museum website, “The coin cabinet is one of the largest numismatic collections with 500,000 objects. The collection owes its international reputation to the richness and unity of the coin series from the beginning of coinage in the 7th century B.C.E. in Asia Minor until the coins and medals of the 21st century. The most important holdings include 102,000 Greek and about 50,000 Roman coins of antiquity, 160,000 European coins of the Middle Ages and the modern era, and 35,000 Islamic-Oriental coins. The 15th century art form of the medal is represented with 25,000 pieces.”

It appears the Canadian gold coin was stolen during the early morning hours, the thieves entering through a window about 3:30 a.m. According to police, the coin was removed using a wheelbarrow and a ladder that was recovered at nearby railway tracks.

It is understood the thieves took advantage of disruptive construction work near the museum. Police interrupted service on the S-Bahn rapid transit system as soon as the ladder was discovered near the tracks at the tip of an island on the Spree River near the center of Berlin. It has been feared from the start the coin was quickly melted rather than fenced or hidden.

Specific details were not released by the prosecutor’s office; however, according to several media sources, the investigation into the Lebanese mafia-type clan “R” living in Berlin may be leading to the missing coin.

Four people were arrested in connection with the theft in June 2017. Three of those individuals are members of “R.” The fourth individual was an employee of the museum who it is suspected was used as a contact person. The investigation has continued since the time of these arrests.

The prosecutor’s office announced on July 19, 2018, that 77 properties owned by the "R" family have been seized due to a recent change in the law allowing the provisional seizure of assets of dubious origin until the owners can prove these assets are legally owned.

This law, which is similar to a law implemented in Italy, should be disturbing to numismatists since the owners of coin collections unable to prove through a lengthy paper trail their coins have proper ownership might be able to be seized, if a foreign government were to insist these coins were the cultural patrimony of that nation. Such a law can be interpreted to make a person guilty until proven innocent. It is understood that, so far, these laws have only been used to prosecute organized crime organizations in Italy and Germany.

The "R" family has been under investigation since 2014, according to the Berlin prosecutor’s office. During 2014, the "R" family allegedly broke into more than 100 deposit boxes inside a savings bank in Berlin-Mariendorf. As with the missing gold coin, nothing has been recovered from the bank theft.

While it is doubtful the gold Maple Leaf coin will be recovered, the prosecutor is confident the thieves will be convicted for its theft.

The names of the owners of the other $1 million Canadian gold coins were not known at the time this article was being written, perhaps a wise precaution.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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