Italy foils Swiss-based gold smugglers

Italian police on Thursday seized €163 million ($207 million) worth of assets from a criminal association headquartered in Switzerland, as well as a luxury villa used as a safehouse for stashing gold.

Italy foils Swiss-based gold smugglers

Officers carried out 259 raids in houses and cash-for-gold shops across Italy as part of an investigation into 118 people suspected of smuggling gold bars to Switzerland and cash back into Italy.

The gang is accused of money-laundering, recycling cash and stolen jewels through cash-for-gold shops and churning out ingots in foundries.

"The money came illegally into Italy from Switzerland, and was used to buy fraudulently obtained gold and silver, then sent back to Switzerland in the form of ingots," police officer Alessandro Langella told AFP.

Police seized a villa in Monte San Savino, a town near the city of Arezzo, the gold capital of Italy.

Nicknamed "Fort Knox", the villa was used by the criminal gang as a place to stash the cash and gold.

Police said they also blocked 500 bank accounts, seizing €163 million worth of profit earned by the gang in 2012 through the exchange of 4,500 kilograms of gold and 11,000 kilograms of silver.

In August, Italian police announced a 78-percent jump in the amount of gold, silver and cash they had prevented from leaving the country illegally in the first seven months of 2012.

The financial police said it had seized €41 million worth compared with €23.2 million in the same period last year.

Criminal organizations in Italy have been making billions from a boom in the poorly-regulated cash-for-gold sector, which is rife with tax evasion and serves as a quick and easy method of cleaning dirty money.

Out of an estimated 28,000 cash-for-gold stores in Italy, only a few hundred have registered with the Bank of Italy and professional associations say that some 80 percent of the gold sold there ultimately ends up in Switzerland.

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Switzerland searches for owner of 180,000 francs worth of gold bars left on train

Are you missing 180,000 francs (€168,000) worth of gold bars after a train journey through central Switzerland? If so, you might be in luck.

Switzerland searches for owner of 180,000 francs worth of gold bars left on train
Photo: Pexels/Free to use

Swiss authorities have announced they are searching for the owner or owners of a set of gold bars worth 180,000 francs (€168,000/$US190,000). 

The bars were left on a train from St Gallen to Lucerne in October 2019. The bars were found unattended by a member of train staff and brought to lost property – upon which SBB officers realised the find.  

After an eight-month private search for the gold – including looking at surveillance cameras throughout the journey – Lucerne authorities have gone public to try and find the rightful owner. 

But if you’ve suddenly realised your gold cache is a little light, don’t fear. The Lucerne Prosecutors Office have given prospective gold seekers a five-year window in which they can claim ownership. 

In an interview with Swiss news organisation 20 Minutes, the Lucerne Prosecutors Office says they’ve already received several claims for ownership. 

Spokesperson Simon Kopp said: “We’ve received a lot of reports and we have to check them now.”

Kopp said authorities would go through all claims they believed to be legitimate – not including the hundreds of hopeful claimants on social media. 

We're unsure how hard the authorities are looking however – as Switzerland has a 'finders keepers' law which snaps into place after five years. 

Although possession of gold bars is relatively rare – even in Switzerland – Kopp said determining the original owner of the bars just by evaluating them is impossible. 

No loss or theft of gold bars has been recorded in Switzerland either, reports the Zürichsee newspaper

Switzerland's forgetful golden problem

Remarkably, it is not the first time a large cache of gold bars has been found in Switzerland. 

In 2012, 100,000 francs worth of gold was found in a field in Klingau, Aargau by employees of the village town council. 

After a five-year search with no luck, the gold became the property of the village – under the same finders keepers law. 

An investigation failed to find the owner, despite an initial lead pointing to a Bosnian man who was in prison when the treasure was discovered.

READ: Swiss village gets to keep abandoned gold bars 

But ownership was not proven, nor was there anything to connect the gold bars to a crime.

Shortly before the five year deadline, two people turned up to stake a claim on the treasure, but after a police investigation, their claims were judged unfounded, police said.

As reported at the time, the employees were entitled to 10 percent of the total value of the find.