‘It wasn’t us,’ say coin theft accused

Three men are on trial in Berlin for stealing one of the world’s largest gold coins, a 2007 Canadian $1m ‘Big Maple Leaf’ in March 2017

Four Berlin men who went on trial on Thursday denied involvement in the spectacular museum theft of a giant commemorative gold coin called the “Big Maple Leaf” and valued at ß3.75m (R60m).

Police had “presented not a single shred of firm evidence”, argued Toralf Noeding, defence lawyer for the three alleged thieves, brothers Ahmed, 20, and Wayci Remmo, 23, and cousin Wissam Remmo, 21.

Noeding also charged that his clients had suffered prejudice from broad media coverage on their extended family with roots in Lebanon, several of whose members have been jailed for involvement in violent or organised crime.

Police have found no trace of the 100kg Canadian coin since the late-night heist in March 2017 from the German capital’s Bode Museum, close to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s flat.

Police assume the nearly pure gold treasure, which has a face value of C$1m (R10.5m), was either cut up, melted down or taken abroad.

Police staged raids in July 2017 involving 300 officers on premises in and around Berlin linked to the Remmo clan to gather evidence.

They confiscated guns, luxury cars and more than ß100,000 (R1.6m) in cash.

If found guilty of theft in the juvenile court case, the three Remmos, all registered as unemployed, would face jail terms of up to 10 years.

Also in the dock and claiming innocence was former museum security guard Denis Umut W, 20, the alleged inside man, accused of giving the others crucial information for the break-in.

His lawyer Marcel Kelz denied media reports that his client had made major purchases, including an ß11,000 (R176,000) gold chain, and shown interest in buying a Mercedes-Benz car and property months after the heist.

The “Big Maple Leaf”, one of five minted in 2007 with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, is considered the world’s second-largest gold coin after the one-ton Australian Kangaroo issued in 2012.

The coin, which has a diameter of 53cm, was on loan from an unidentified collector to the Bode Museum, which bills its exhibition of coins and medals as a “chronicle of human history forged in metal”.

Security camera footage from the night shows three young men wearing dark hoodies, scarves and baseball caps make their way to the museum.

They broke in through a window and smashed a glass case with an axe.

A police team discovered gold particles inside the suspects’ getaway vehicle matching the purity of the Big Maple Leaf, prosecutors say.