World

Wiretap of Winnipeg super-thief leads tips off Scotland Yard to 'The Boss'

Hot on a lead accidentally provided by Canadian master thief Gerald Blanchard, Scotland Yard detectives are now chasing the shadowy crime boss who hired Blanchard to pull off a chain of cross-continent heists linked to terrorist financing.

Hot on a lead accidentally provided by Canadian master thief Gerald Blanchard, Scotland Yard detectives are now chasing the shadowy crime boss who hired Blanchard topull offa chain of cross-continent heists linked to terrorist financing.

Winnipeg-born Gerald Blanchard, 35, and seven co-conspirators were arrested last January. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. ((CBC))

The London-based kingpin known only as "The Boss" is alleged to have ordered Blanchard to scam millions of dollars from across Canada, Europe and Africa for the purpose of funding Kurdish militants in Iraq.

Canadian authorities tracingBlanchard's robberies in Manitoba and Alberta described him as one of the most sophisticated criminal masterminds they've ever investigated.

In a Winnipeg Court of Queen's Bench proceeding where Blanchard was sentenced to eight years in prison this month, the court was told that The Boss might be a co-conspirator in some of theplots.

British authorities know the identity of The Boss, but they have not yet shared their intelligence with the RCMP, Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd said.

In court, she compared the"cunning, clever, conniving" Blanchardand hisgang of super-thievesto the fictionalcast of swindlersassembled in the Hollywood blockbuster Ocean's 11.

"Add some foreign intrigue and this is the stuff movies are made of," she said.

Swiped Austrian jewel from castle

The Winnipeg-born Blanchard can be overheard in wiretap transcripts saying The Boss intended to channel the proceeds to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, as well as possibly other groups labelled terrorists by Canada and other Western nations.

The Sisi Star, a diamond-and-pearl hairpin once worn by the Empress of Austria, was found in Blanchard's grandmother's Winnipeg home. (CBC)

Blanchard, 35, admitted that as the brains behindseveral caperscarried outon behalf of The Boss,helived a jet-setting lifestyleunder several assumed identities, and used elaborate disguises and high-tech surveillance equipment to empty cash machines from banks around the world.

In one audacious theft, he posed as a tourist in a Vienna castle before swiping the priceless Star of the Empress Sisi from an encased display, and leaving a gift-shop replica in its place. The 19th-century diamond-and-pearl heirloom was later found stashed at Blanchard's grandmother's home in Winnipeg.

16 counts of fraud and robbery

In another sting in May 2004, Blanchard monitored a Winnipeg CIBC branch still under construction, then drained $510,000 from its ATMs the day before the bank's grand opening.

That crime opened the RCMP investigation and months of case-building that led to Blanchard's eventual arrest in Cairo in November 2006.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison this month after pleading guilty to 16 counts of fraud and robbery, and is eligible for parole in two years.

Leinburd told London's Times newspaper Blanchard had no "political or religious reasons to support terrorism," but "saw it as a way to get the information for his operations."

As part of the plea negotiation, he has also been ordered topay $500,000 in restitution to the victims of his schemes.

Corrections

  • In a Winnipeg Court of Queen's Bench proceeding, Gerald Blanchard did not implicate an individual known as The Boss as the architect of various plots, as was originally reported. In fact, the court was told that The Boss might be a co-conspirator in some of the plots.
    Feb 12, 2008 2:45 AM ET

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