Combating counterfeits and theft are among the chief concerns facing any government mint. In an effort to both weed out and deter fakes of all sorts, many mints have begun including special security measures on their gold and silver bullion coins. Over time, these anti-counterfeiting measures have grown more and more sophisticated.
One assumes that surveillance and security at the facilities themselves would also become more sophisticated. Less attention, however, is given to the problem of mints being victimized by “inside jobs,” where the thief or fraudster actually is one of its own employees!
Less than a year ago, the Perth Mint acknowledged it was robbed by an independent contractor. He allegedly pilfered the equivalent of a Good Delivery (40 troy oz) gold bar, valued around $50,000, from Perth’s refinery.
How he managed to slip such a hefty amount of gold from the facility is a mystery. That may sound like an egregious lapse in security—but it turns out it’s not all that unusual at even the most renowned minting and refining operations in the world.
The Royal Canadian Mint recently prosecuted a case against one of its former employees wherein the case hinged upon the form of the gold the man was cashing in on the side: He was in possession of crude, pure gold “pucks” shaped precisely like the tool used in the refinery to scoop out molten gold. This clearly wasn’t your average investor stacking a few gold coins or bars made for retail consumption.
It was claimed by the defense that even this inculpatory evidence (the gold pucks) was really just circumstantial because the mint couldn’t prove it was their gold. In fact, they couldn’t, but the state nonetheless won a conviction due to the overwhelming circumstantial case. (The defense never offered an explanation of where the gold was legitimately purchased, though no video footage existed of what must have been many thefts.)
Of greater interest to the Canadian press, however, was the manner in which he committed the brazen act of larceny: the national papers delighted in pointing out that he snuck it out “up his bum.”
Stepping Up Security
Luckily, these thieves were rather quickly apprehended, and the mints got their gold back. That the gold made it out of a facility is embarrassing enough to be sure. We’re talking about world-class operations at Perth and the RCM. In other industries, some amount of lost product to worker theft (euphemistically known as “shrinkage”) can be tolerated. At a state mint or treasury department, it’s anathema. It’s worth acknowledging that an institution as important as a major mint must be rooted in a culture of trust, so a worker would be an unthinkable suspect.
Since the theft, Perth Mint has begun to consider heightened security measures for anyone who enters and exits the mint facilities, even contractors and regular employees. To streamline the screening process, the mint may ban employees from wearing any clothing containing metal while on the job. This would avoid any confusion with metal detectors. It could also issue special uniforms for mint workers that avoid this problem.
There is, unfortunately, the potential for the move to become a divisive case of gender discrimination: Women’s bras frequently contain metal wires, while men’s undergarments (generally?) do not. Thus the specific ban on such clothing would disproportionately inconvenience women working at the mint. Special uniforms may again seem to be the obvious answer—though that would mean that Perth Mint would have the strange task of making special underwear for all of its workers.
“I’m pretty sure [Perth Mint] could find the technology that excludes women from having to go through this embarrassment,” Steve McCartney, the state secretary for the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), optimistically told reporters.
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