British Columbia

The mysterious case of the disappearing shipping container with $10 million worth of silver inside

A federal court judge says the case has all the elements of an "Agatha Christie whodunit." More than $10 million US worth of silver ingots remains missing as a court battle rages over a theft carried out by pirates using passcodes instead of swords.

Some stolen silver has been found in B.C. and Massachusetts but bulk of $10 million haul is missing

A person holds a piece of recovered silver. Police are still hunting for the suspects who stole more than $10 million US worth of silver ingots from a shipping container in January 2020. Some of the missing metal has turned up in Nanaimo. (Federal Court filings)

Nearly three years have passed since a cartage company left a shipping container holding more than $10 million US worth of silver in the parking lot of a run-down warehouse in Lasalle, Que.

A snapshot of the moment was recorded for posterity and — presumably — proof. The grainy photograph is now part of a voluminous court file related to what happened next.

This is an unusual story, but not completely unpredictable: the container and its contents vanished.

And while traces of the long gone silver have turned up in B.C. and Massachusetts, the bulk of the booty remains missing as a legal battle plays out over who exactly bears responsibility.

"This case has all the elements of an Agatha Christie whodunit," Federal Court case management Judge Kevin Aalto wrote in a ruling rejecting a bid to stay the proceedings earlier this year.

"A valuable stolen cargo, a secure location, multiple possible suspects, an unknown perpetrator, and a trucking company that was given the pick-up code with instructions to deliver the cargo to a location unknown to any of the parties."

Pointing fingers

Another Federal Court judge upheld Aalto's ruling last week — dismissing an appeal from a shipping company that wanted to transfer the court battle from Canada to South Korea, the place where the silver originated.

Two arms of the security company Brink's — which was hired to transport the silver from Korea to the United States via Canada — are suing the shipping and logistics companies subcontracted to move the freight.

The trucking company that delivered the missing ingots took this picture after leaving the cargo at a warehouse in Laval. The silver vanished thereafter. (Federal Court filings)

Those companies have denied any wrongdoing — pointing to other links in the chain of firms that brought the precious cargo by sea to Vancouver and by rail to Montreal, where it sat in a CN yard until Jan. 20, 2020, the day the container was released upon the provision of a protected passcode.

According to the court proceedings, the 18,276.02 kilograms of silver ingots were worth $10,262,242.37 US — the amount Brink's paid out to its customer after the theft.

Now Brink's wants to collect that money from the companies which it claims are liable.

Piracy by passcode

The court pleadings are as tangled as the world of maritime movement — but underlying the case is a classic heist pulled off by pirates brandishing an email in place of swords.

Aalto's judgment says the shipping giant Maersk ultimately moved the cargo from Korea to Canada. Another firm — Binex — was to act as consignee, a shipping term for the company to whom goods are officially sent or delivered.

The global security company Brink's is suing a number of companies it claims should be liable for the disappearance of more than $10 million US worth of silver ingots shipped from Korea to Canada. (Image Source: pixgood)

"Maersk generated and released a pickup code to the consignee, Binex, without which the CN railyard could not release the cargo," Aalto wrote.

"The sole role of Binex was to receive the pick-up code from Maersk and release it to Brink's, who would transport the cargo to its final destination in New York."

Maersk sent the pickup code to a Binex email account on Jan. 6. 2020.

"The reception of that email and the subsequent access to it by the thieves are the subject of ongoing investigations," Aalto wrote.

Two weeks after Maersk sent the code — PU #885402 — it appeared with the container number and correct weight of cargo in a pickup request emailed to the trucking company that then delivered the silver to a warehouse as instructed.

"The warehouse was an end unit of a set of three older warehouse buildings that are in disrepair. The cargo was thereafter never seen again and never delivered to the proper owner and true consignee," Brink's says in its initial claim.

"After some investigation, it was determined that the pick-up email ... was fraudulent and the cargo had been stolen."

A bar of silver located in Nanaimo, B.C.

Brink's claims current or former Binex employees "gave the necessary information to the thieves, or worked with, or were associated with, the thieves to facilitate removal of the cargo."

In a statement of defence, Binex denies those allegations, saying the company "performed its duties in a safe and prudent manner at all material times, without fault or neglect."

Stolen silver ingots have turned up in Nanaimo and Massachusetts. Brink's has handed the recovered cargo to Toronto police, who offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. (Federal court filings)

For its part, Maersk also says it did nothing wrong, taking "appropriate, customary and necessary measures" to ensure the cargo was "properly and carefully received, carried and delivered."

The court file includes an affidavit from Phil Wright, director of operations and security at Brink's Global Services International, detailing the hunt for the missing silver.

Wright claims some of the ingots were discovered in November 2020 at a refinery in Massachussets. The silver had been shipped there from Brampton.

Almost a year later, a single 1,000-ounce bar was discovered in Nanaimo in October 2021. 

"Brink's took possession of the silver that was discovered in the United States and British Columbia (the "recovered cargo") being 26 barrels, one full bar and three small bars with a total weight of 1,836.175 kg," Wright says.

A $5,000 reward

Wright's affidavit includes pictures of the silver, which was turned over to the Toronto Police Service.

That led to a news release from Toronto police last year, requesting the public's assistance with "identifying suspects" in the theft of the silver bullion.

A few of the $10 million US worth of silver ingots stolen from a shipping container in January 2020 have turned up, but the bulk remains missing. One of the bars was found in Nanaimo last year. (Toronto Police Service)

The statement promised a $5,000 reward for any information that might lead to an arrest but didn't give any of the details connecting the case to the ongoing lawsuit and the brazen heist.

"Investigators believe that some of the silver was smelted into ingots for a better chance of avoiding suspicion when selling," the statement said.

"Investigators would like to speak to anyone who may have received these ingots or fears they may have received silver byproducts from this stolen shipment."

There do not appear to have been any arrests to date.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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