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Four on trial for Berlin museum coin theft

January 10, 2019

Four men accused of stealing a huge gold coin worth €3.75 million from the Bode Museum in Berlin have gone on trial. Police have been unable to find any trace of the coin since it went missing in March 2017.

A 'Giant Maple Leaf' coin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. K. Techt

Four men went on trial Thursday for the theft of a 100-kilogram (220-pound) Canadian commemorative gold coin from Berlin's Bode Museum in March 2017.

Three men are accused of stealing the coin and a fourth suspect who worked as a guard at the museum for a private security firm is accused of acting as an inside man. They have denied all accusations.

Read more: Berlin 24/7: After the theft of the Big Maple Leaf

The indictment read out by Chief Prosecutor Martina Lamb accused the four defendants of the theft and demanded that €3.75 million ($4.31 million) be confiscated from them, a price that corresponds to the sales value of the gold.

The "Big Maple Leaf" coin is one of five coins each worth 1 million Canadian dollars produced by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007. It features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and is considered to be the world's second-largest gold coin. 

Security camera footage from the night shows three young men wearing dark hoodies make their way to the museum, following earlier trips they had made to scope out the site.

Case of giant gold coin in court

Coin likely damaged during theft

The thieves allegedly broke in through a window and used a rope, wooden beam and a wheelbarrow to lift the coin — which has a diameter of 53 centimeters (21 inches) — onto elevated urban railway tracks before taking it away in a car.

The coin was likely damaged after the thieves dropped it twice, first on the tracks that pass the museum and cross the Spree River, and then in Monbijou Park on the opposite river bank.

Police have been unable to find any trace of the coin since it was stolen from the museum and believe it "was either cut into small pieces or taken abroad," said the Berlin police at the time of the theft.

One of the men's lawyers, Toralf Nöding, said Thursday that police investigations had "not produced a single piece of substantial evidence" against the accused.

Alleged crime family links

The Berliner Zeitung daily newspaper and other German media reported that the three accused of the theft are brothers and are relatives of the Remmo family with roots in Lebanon, several of whose members have been linked to organized crime.

Lebanon police last year targeted the Remmo clan with the seizure of 77 properties worth a total of €9.3 million, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes, including a bank robbery.

Read more: How Berlin's Lebanese mafia clans work

In court, Nöding denounced media reports that any of the accused were related to the Remmo family.

The giant coin was on loan from an unidentified collector to the Bode Museum, which describes its large exhibition of coins and medals as a "chronicle of human history forged in metal."

If found guilty, the alleged perpetrators could face up to 10 years in jail.

law/msh (AFP, AP, dpa)