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In a brazen gold heist, seven heavily armed men stormed a Canadian-run mine in Brazil, took hostages and set off explosives to crack a storage safe – making off with about 50 kilograms of the precious yellow metal, worth $2.1-million.
Owned by Vancouver miner Luna Gold Corp. (LGC-X), the Aurizona project is remote, located on the northeastern coast of Brazil, several hundred kilometres east of the mouth of the Amazon River and a five-hour drive from the nearest large city.
The mine, which is being readied for commercial operations in 2011, is staffed by about 450 employees and protected by 50 security guards, though not all of them are armed.
The hostages taken were released unharmed and no employees were hurt. Luna Gold offered counselling to those who faced the thieves.
The robbers employed mostly the same methods that worked in a successful theft in February in Brazil. During an afternoon, assailants took three employees hostage outside a mine run by Troy Resources of Australia, returned to the mine, stole about 65 kilograms of gold and let the hostages go.
In the Luna Gold case, the thieves attacked the mine in the middle of the night and Luna Gold chief executive officer John Blake was rattled awake at his Vancouver home by a phone call around 2 a.m.
“It’s a very disturbing thing to have happen to us,” said Blake in an interview on Wednesday afternoon.
In the realm of epic gold heists, the robbery in Brazil will not top the annals, a list whose leading entries include a $40-million heist at dawn near Heathrow in London in 1983. Three of 15 men involved were jailed but much of the gold was never recovered.
However, as the prices of various commodities soar, and with gold near a record high, up 30 percent in the past year, the potential sparkle of purloined profit twinkles brighter in the eyes of thieves, whatever the motive. Reports of scavenging and theft of copper scrap are not uncommon.
On the gold front, in one example last spring in Baghdad, masked men arrived at a jewellery market in a half-dozen vehicles near noon.
Armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, 15 people were killed as the assailants made off with what officials called a “large quantity” of gold. Al-Qaeda was blamed, with terrorism financing cited as the reason behind the attack.
In Brazil, the Maranhao State Police is investigating the Luna Gold theft. The company itself – worth $280-million on the TSX Venture Exchange – said it is covered for such losses with an international insurer and the company is working on filing its claim. The theft will not adversely affect the firm’s operations.