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Former Air Canada manager wanted in gold heist to turn himself in, lawyer says

The former Air Canada manager wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for his alleged role in the largest gold heist in Canadian history is preparing to turn himself in, according to his lawyer.

Simran Preet Panesar wanted in connection with multi-million dollar airport robbery

A photo of a man in a blue shirt and sunglasses.

The former Air Canada manager wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for his alleged role in the largest gold heist in Canadian history is preparing to turn himself in, according to his lawyer.

Simran Preet Panesar is wanted on charges including theft over $5,000 in connection with the April 2023 theft of more than$20 million in gold from Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

Panesar is "very confident in the Canadian justice system," his lawyer, Greg Lafontaine said in a statement to CBC News. "When this prosecution is over, he will have been absolved of any wrongdoing."

Police say Panesar quit his job last summer and disappeared. The charges against him and eight others were announced in April.

Lafontaine said Panesar retained him as soon as he learned he was wanted on charges in Canada. Lafontaine then contacted police and the Crown prosecutorto tell them Panesar planned to return voluntarily to Canada in the next few weeks.

"He is anxious to have an opportunity to demonstrate his absolute innocence," Lafontaine said.

Lafontaine said Panesar is "tidying up his affairs abroad in preparation of his return to Canada."

He did not say where Panesar is, citing safety concerns. But CBC News has been investigating the possibility he has been in India with his wife, Preety Panesar. She is not believed to have been involved in the heist.

Posts on social media

Preety, a former Miss India Uganda, is a singer and actor and released music videos under the label Muzik Karma Records with her husband when they were both living in Canada.

Before the heist, he was trying to launch a career in the Punjabi entertainment industry alongside her. Promotional materials online suggest they were both involved in a film slated for 2022 called Zeba.

In interviews on YouTube Preety credits him with launching her career.

In an interview last year with a Punjabi entertainment reporter, she indicated a new film would start shooting in September with hopes it would be released by December.

Just days before the charges against her husband were announced, Preety posted pictures and video from a photoshoot that appeared to be located in Chandigarh, a city in northern Punjab.

Numerous people and businesses were tagged in those posts, which CBC News subsequently contacted. CBC News also emailed her official account multiple times but did not receive any response.

After these attempts at contact, Simran Panesar sent a short message to a CBC News reporter, on Wednesday, via a WhatsApp business account associated with an Indian phone number. He had previously used a Toronto-area number. He did not respond to questions.

Investigation ongoing

The heist saw 400 kilograms of pure gold and about $2.5 million in various foreign currencies stolen from Pearson's cargo compound, shortly after arriving on a flight from Zurich.

A man driving a five-tonne delivery truck approached the compound and gained entry to the warehouse by presenting a legitimate airway bill — a document typically issued by a carrier with details on a shipment. The gold and cash were then loaded onto the truck, which drove off.

WATCH | How the heist happened:

How thieves stole $22.5M in gold, cash from Pearson airport

2 months ago

Duration 2:11

Police have arrested multiple people and laid 19 charges in relation to a multimillion-dollar gold heist at Pearson airport last year. Peel police Det.-Sgt. Mike Mavity said the suspect gained access to an Air Canada storage facility using an airway bill — a document typically issued by a carrier with details on the shipment — for a shipment of seafood picked up a day prior.

Police later discovered that the airway bill was a duplicate of a document used for a shipment of seafood delivered a day prior. It was printed within the Air Canada facility, police said.

When Peel Regional Police announced the charges, Panesar and two other suspects were unaccounted for and the Canada-wide warrants were issued.

In May, one of the men, Archit Grover, was arrested at Pearson shortly after arriving on a flight from India. The other, Arsalan Chaudhary, a 42-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., has not been located.

In an email to CBC News on Thursday, Peel Regional Police said it is "following all investigative leads" to find the remaining suspects.

It's unclear when Panesar left Canada. Public records indicate his previous address was a Brampton, Ont., townhouse. In April, neighbours told CBC News the family hadn't been home in months.

Police have said Panesar was known to them early in the investigation and that he had led police on a tour of the cargo facility before they suspected his alleged involvement.

The charges were made public with much fanfare as a part of a joint news conference with agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The day before, U.S. justice officials had announced charges involving three of the other suspects, alleging they were part of a cross-border firearms trafficking ring tied to the theft of gold and the purchase of firearms.

The break in the case came in September 2023 when Pennsylvania State Troopers pulled over a vehicle and allegedly found 65 firearms which the U.S. Department of Justice said were destined for Canada. The Canadian behind the wheel, Durante King-McLean, was illegally in the U.S. and has been in custody there ever since.

Peel police allege King-McLean was also the gold heist's "wheel man" — that he drove the truck in and out of the cargo facility before disappearing somewhere on a country road near Milton, a community northwest of Toronto.

Grand jury documents

King-McLean and a Florida woman, Jalisa Edwards, are scheduled to go to trial in the fall on charges related to the alleged firearms trafficking. Two other heist suspects currently in Canada, Prasath Paramalingam and Grover, are also facing charges in that matter.

Pennsylvania grand jury documents allege that, in May 2023, Paramlingam provided funds to King-McLean and greenlit the purchase of several firearms.

That indictment also states surveillance cameras in Atlanta captured King-McLean visiting a U-Haul storage facility with a black backpack in hand. It alleges that same backpack was recovered by police in Pennsylvania a few days later and contained more than 30 firearms.

In the same indictment, Grover is alleged to have been in communication with King-McLean and Edwards. It alleges Grover may have been involved in the removal of evidence from a Florida Airbnb used in the operation and sent $1,000 to Edwards to cover an "after-the-fact" car rental agreement for King-McLean.

It's unclear when Paramalingan and Grover will face trial in the U.S. The current trial date for Edwards and King-McLean is set for Sept. 9.

The gold heist case is still in very preliminary stages as the accused wait for disclosure from the Crown. None of them have entered pleas.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Nicholson

Senior Reporter

Katie Nicholson is a multi-platform RTDNA and Canadian Screen Award winning investigative journalist. She’s often on the ground covering everything from wildfires, floods and hurricanes, to papal funerals and the US. Katie has also reported extensively on intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, MMIWG, and child welfare. She is based in Toronto. Have a story idea? Email: Katie.Nicholson@cbc.ca

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