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Royal Mint's gold 'wasn't stolen' -- maybe secretly leased?

Section: Daily Dispatches

No Theft at Mint: RCMP

By Ian Macleod
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, October 24, 2009

OTTAWA -- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has finished its investigation into the missing gold from the Royal Canadian Mint and has concluded there was no theft, Tory minister Rob Merrifield announced in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Officials at the Mint, when contacted by the Citizen, refused to speculate on what happened to the missing $15.3 million worth of gold or whether it has been recovered.

However, the Mint is understandably relieved.

"It validates what the mint already knew -- that we have extremely rigorous measures in place, which makes us one of the most secure facilities in Canada," said Christine Aquino, mint spokeswoman.

The file has been passed on to the auditor general, the Commons was told.

If the gold was not stolen, however, where did the more than half a ton of riches in one of Ottawa's most heavily guarded buildings go?

Last June, Merrifield, the junior Transport minister responsible for the Crown corporation, told the Commons that preliminary results of an independent audit failed to determine what happened to the gold.

"I've instructed the mint to bring in the RCMP to examine this matter in a fulsome way," he said at that time.

The mint made a written request for a criminal investigation later that day.

Merrifield's remarks in June followed a series of Citizen articles detailing how officials at the mint had been quietly hunting for the gold since October 2008, when a routine inventory count could not reconcile tabulations made six months earlier with the physical stockpile.

On June 29, three weeks after the mint called on police, detailed findings of the four-month Deloitte audit ruled out bad bookkeeping and other inventory control errors for 17,514 troy ounces of missing gold and other precious metals. The news generated international headlines and fuelled speculation about what would be Canada's biggest gold heist.

The same day, Merrifield and Transport Minister John Baird issued a joint statement calling the loss "inexcusable" and promising the mint will be "held accountable." They added: "We have ordered the Mint to call in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. ... The RCMP investigation is ongoing." Not so. The RCMP had only been investigating whether to investigate. There was no formal case.

The mint continues to hold out hope the missing metals will be accounted for by two additional, last-ditch probes: A technical review of the processes, formulae, and benchmarks used in its gold refinery, where most of the gold went missing, and an accounting review of periods prior to October 2008.

A third review, into security and "an assessment of potential inappropriate activity by both internal and/or external parties," also is under way. Results are expected this fall.

Meanwhile, it recently postponed a plan for the mint's board to submit its year-end 2008 financial statements to the Office of the Auditor General until the latest reviews end. And until the statements are closed and approved, the mint cannot pay further performance bonuses to its 865 Ottawa and Winnipeg employees.

Baird and Merrifield also ordered executive bonuses frozen, "until this matter is resolved to our satisfaction."

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