Top 5 Biggest Gold Heists Ever

Posted - September 6, 2023
gold heists

It’s hard to explain the public’s obsession with heists, but it’s not difficult to understand. Hundreds of movies from the best writers and directors in the world have explored how the other side lives, firmly imprinting the fascination of daring robberies in the minds of millions. But massive heists aren’t just a Hollywood invention. For hundreds of years, gold has been a premier target for criminal masterminds. 

Part of the appeal of stealing gold is its limited traceability. Sophisticated robbers are able to melt gold down to conceal its illicit origins. Because of gold’s intrinsic value, it’s often considered easier to refine and obscure from authorities. From small safe heists to massive bank robberies, gold theft has been a time-honored tradition among some of the world’s most brilliant criminal enterprises. 

Today, we’re taking a look at five of the biggest gold heists in world history. Combined, the robbers behind these famous heists have made off with hundreds of millions of dollars in gold coins and bars. 

Largest Gold Robberies by Estimated Value

For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing mainly on robberies from the past one-hundred years. There are thousands of notable bank heists from throughout human history. But we didn’t want to write about the ancient plundering that characterized Ancient civilizations. Instead, we’re going to walk you through some of the largest gold robberies from recent history. 

We also excluded heists that are too small. This guide will focus primarily on gold heists with a take of over $5 million. 

Brink’s-Mat Robbery – £26 Million 

In 1983, a group of six criminals broke into Brink’s-Mat warehouse, which was used to store bullion for the International Trading Estate in West London. The robbers worked closely with Anthony Black, a security officer of the estate who had collaborated to help the heist take place. The warehouse was not empty; several employees were working on the night of the robbery. To force staff members to give up the combination for the vault, the masterminds of this heist poured gasoline on them, threatening to light them on fire if they failed to comply. 

The robbers chose an ideal time to pull off their heist. A significant amount of gold bullion was being stored at the Brink’s-Mat warehouse so that it could be transported to Hong Kong for an important trade in the morning. The robbers were able to secure over 6,800 gold bullion bars, along with a total of three tons of pure gold. In total, the heist’s masterminds made off with £26 Million – which is the equivalent of a jaw-dropping £93.3 Million today. 

With a heist of this size, it’s tough to imagine that anyone would ever really get away without being caught. Anthony Black, Micky McAvoy, Brian Robinson, Kenneth Noye, Garth Chappel, Brian Reader, Matteo Constantino, Michael Relton, Kathleen McAvoy, Gordon Parry, Brian Parry, Patrick Clark, and Jean Savage were all convicted in criminal courts in connection with the Brink’s-Mat robbery. 

To this day, the Brink’s-Mat Robbery remains one of the world’s most notorious heists. The sheer quantity and weight of gold bullion secured by these criminals is astonishing. 

Guarulhos Airport Robbery – $25 Million 

This is one of the most recent gold heists on our list. Airports have commonly been the target of robberies. Every year, billions of dollars in gold, jewels, and other precious metals are stored and transported at airports around the world. In 2019, masked robbers managed to steal a staggering $25 million in gold bullion from the Guarulhos Airport. They donned face coverings and drove trucks that looked like they belonged to Brazilian police officials. Armed with rifles, they took airport employees hostage while they secured over 1,650 pounds of gold, along with some other precious metals. 

The brazen robbery has been compared to the Albania Tirana International Airport robbery, which happened back in April of 2019. While the geniuses behind the heist may have been inspired by Albanian robbers, the Guarulhos Airport Robbery dwarfed the size of its predecessor – which only resulted in losses of around $2.6 million. 

Investigators in Brazil are still looking for the suspects behind this particular robbery, but its success stunned the world. The investigation is likely to drag on for quite some time. Remember: it took years for police to apprehend the suspects behind the notorious Brink’s-Mat Robbery. We anticipate the same long investigatory and trial process will happen as Brazilian officials look for the people responsible for the now-infamous Guarulhos Airport Robbery. 

Australian Safe Cracking Heist – $5.4 Million AUD

This isn’t the most expensive gold heist on our list, but its unique background makes it worthy of inclusion in today’s article. In April of 1995, a robber broke into the safe of a wealthy Australian executive. Before the executive even knew what had happened, he was taken for over $5.4 million AUD (1995 money) in gold bars. The suspect is believed to have used a cart to transport the 600+ pounds of gold out of the safe. 

Investigators followed a single suspect for years: Mr. X. Mr. X is the pseudonym given to the boyfriend of the executive’s former secretary. According to experts familiar with the case, the boyfriend had a history of criminality, including robberies. There are likely very few Australians capable of cracking the safe that held millions of dollars in gold bars, and this man was one of them. Police allege that the boyfriend was given intimate details about the safe and its expensive contents by his girlfriend, using this information to pull off one of the biggest single-person heists in recent history. 

Despite having a specific suspect and a clear means behind the robbery, investigators were unable to find any proof that Mr. X had actually done the crime. It’s been nearly thirty years, and the case remains functionally unsolved. Was it really Mr. X who used information from a spurned secretary to steal millions of dollars in gold bullion? It’s possible that we might never know who was really behind this infamous heist. 

Summer Bliss Robbery – $11.5 Million 

Another major gold heist that took place outside of a bank, the “Summer Bliss” robbery happened in 2012 on a fishing boat. The total take included 70 gold bars with a total value of around $11.5 million. Like the Australian safe cracking heist, police have been unable to positively identify and convict the six men purportedly behind the heist. 

The criminals who orchestrated the Summer Bliss robbery managed to secure uniforms with “police” written on them, securing their passage onto a fishing boat in Curacao. Once they boarded, they struck the boat’s captain, incapacitating them while they transported all of the gold off the ship. At this point, they loaded the gold into three cars and drove off. At the time, police had no suspects in the robbery. 

One thing that makes this gold heist interesting is the confusion surrounding who owned the gold originally. Police refused to comment on whose gold was stolen, but they did remark that the shipment was legal and being transported through the country as part of a larger trade. Even further complicating the robbery’s investigation is the series of questions it raises. How did the robbers know that an unsuspicious fishing boat was holding over ten million dollars in gold? And where did they take the bullion after the heist? 

Like with many large gold heists, the Summer Bliss robbery is probably going to remain a mystery for quite some time. It’s been over ten years since the robbery took place, so it’s tough to imagine that investigations will make much progress. In other words, the trail has gone cold. 

British Bank of the Middle East Heist – $60+ Million 

Unlike the other robberies on our list, the British Bank of the Middle East heist was orchestrated by a major criminal enterprise with significant global backing. The Palestine Liberation Organization has been a massive militant organization in the Middle East for decades. As the name suggests, the PLO’s main objective is to secure a nation-state for the people of Palestine. Throughout its history, the Palestine Liberation Organization has conducted hundreds of violent operations throughout the Middle East. 

In 1976, the leader of Palestine’s government was Mohammed Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, also known as Yasser Arafat. He had made a political name for himself through the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which he was a member and leading figure. It was under Arafat that the PLO expanded its terrorizing operations. In January of 1976, robbers with known associations to the Palestine Liberation Organization broke into the British Bank of the Middle East, which is known to carry a substantial amount of British currency – along with gold bullion. 

Unlike the cunning strategies employed by some of the robbers on our list, the masterminds behind this heist focused primarily on brute strength and manpower. The British bank, located in Beirut, shared one wall with a Catholic Church. Using powerful explosives, the robbers blew a hole in the side of the church, making their way into the vault where the gold was held. 

When authorities realized that the robbery had taken place, they tallied a record-breaking total. Over $20 million USD in gold bars were stolen. This is much more in today’s money. Some experts estimated the total as being much higher – some people claim that the heist is worth over $150 million USD today. In addition to the standard gold bullion bars, these brutal robbers made off with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds and bank notes. 

Sometimes, heists of this scale are almost impossible to solve. The actual military operators who conducted the theft have never been apprehended, and proceeds from the robbery have likely changed hands so many times that world police officials will never figure out who was behind it. Still, the unprecedented size of this heist makes it one of the most daring and valuable robberies in modern history. 

Key Takeaways – The World’s Boldest Bullion Heists

There you have it – five of the most impressive gold heists in history. Gold heists have happened on almost every continent. While we don’t anticipate a major gold heist in Antarctica anytime soon, it’s clear that gold theft isn’t just a Hollywood trend. Criminals from all over the world have stolen billions in gold, silver, and platinum. Most gold thieves don’t get away with it, and some spend the rest of their lives in prison. But for a lucky few brilliant criminals who manage to evade the law, we may never know what happens to the gold they stole. 

You don’t need to worry about your small gold collection becoming the target of a sophisticated gold heist. But it’s important to remember that thievery does exist, and that bullion is a frequent target for criminals who want to steal something easy to melt down and sell on the open market. It’s never a bad idea for you to take some time and evaluate your own security protocols. 

40mm Coin Capsule for American Silver Eagle
40mm Coin Capsule for Safe Storage

Are you storing your gold coins and bars in a temperature controlled safe? Have you taken steps to secure your gold products with the proper accessories? Even if you’re never a target of the PLO’s heist efforts or the victim of a safe-cracking master criminal, it’s important to work hard to keep your investments safe from theft, damage, or disaster. Thievery isn’t reserved for powerful banks; bullion owners lose money to thefts every year, and the last thing you want is to fall victim to a robbery. 

Final Thoughts: 5 of the World’s Biggest Gold Heists

We’ve all seen the movies. Masked men with genius plans burst into a bank vault, leaving nothing behind and filling their duffel bags with gold bullion bars. Who could forget the brilliant dialogue from films like Reservoir Dogs, or the action-packed thrills of The Town? But exciting, complicated heists aren’t just reserved for cinema. We’ve covered five of the most daring and brazen heists in the history of the world. Combined, the thieves behind these robberies have scored hundreds of millions in gold bars. 

Interested in learning more about gold, silver, and platinum? 

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About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.