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Four Are Arrested in Theft of Giant Gold Coin From Berlin Museum

Around 300 German police officers and members of the special forces, heavily armed and wearing masks, made the four arrests on Wednesday, mostly in the Neukölln neighborhood, which is populated with large communities of immigrants and hipsters.

The men arrested ranged in age from 18 to 20. They did not have criminal records, but three of them were associates of a crime ring, with the fourth a museum security guard who provided information instrumental to the theft, said Martin Steltner, a spokesman for Berlin’s public prosecutor’s office.

Photo

A photograph taken from a surveillance video at a train station in Berlin in March showed three suspects in the theft of the coin, the police in Berlin said. Credit Berlin Police, via European Pressphoto Agency

The guard started work at the museum only weeks before the burglary, Mr. Steltner added.

“We assume that the coin was sold, either complete or in parts,” Carsten Pfohl, a spokesman for the Berlin state criminal office, said at the news conference. “I unfortunately have relatively little hope that we will find the coin, even in pieces.”

Mr. Steltner said the coin had quite likely been divided into parts and sold within Germany, though he said it was possible the coin had been taken out of the country intact.

Investigators have spoken with German gold specialists, hoping that they had come into contact with the coin, Mr. Steltner said, but to no avail. The authorities also searched a neighborhood jewelry store that might have been involved in selling the gold.

“The crime was too professional for us to expect to find the coin,” he added.

In addition to the arrests, officers seized several vehicles, four shotguns and a six-figure sum of money. They also collected clothing and shoes that police said might contain traces of gold from the object.

Martina Lamb, a senior prosecutor who spoke at the news conference, said that the suspects came from an organized crime ring in Berlin.

Investigations into nine other individuals, most of them also members of the crime ring, are continuing, Mr. Steltner said.

The solid gold coin, known as the Big Maple Leaf and issued by the Canadian Mint, has a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on its face. The coin had a face value of 1 million Canadian dollars (about $ 775,000), but was worth as much as 4.5 million United States dollars.

“It is 100 kilos, made by the Canadian Mint, and is of high purity,” Bernhard Weisser, director of the museum’s coin department, said in an interview. He added that the museum’s management had been in contact with the police since March.

With suspects now in custody, museum staff members no longer have to view their colleagues with suspicion, Hans-Jürgen Harras, the head of security at the State Museums of Berlin, which includes the Bode Museum, told the DPA news agency. “The fact that the police was able to find evidence makes us happy and also eliminates our general mistrust against museum staff,” he said.

Source: NYT > World

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