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The Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa.

Blair Gable

The prospect of a Hollywood-style heist at the Mint sounded intriguing, but it turns out the Case of the Missing Gold was all about accounting and poor estimates.

The Royal Canadian Mint promised yesterday to track its precious metal better after confirming that $17-million in missing gold - about 44 bars' worth - was never the object of a theft. If it had been, it would have required pilfering from one of Canada's most secure facilities, located down the block from 24 Sussex Dr.

Still, the more mundane lapses at the Crown corporation - including mistakenly selling gold lost in production - may prove just as embarrassing as the notion that the material was stolen.

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"The good news is that there's no theft at the Mint. The bad news is that the Mint can't count," said Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie.

"I don't think this is enough to restore Canadians' confidence. There's gold missing at the Mint and it's because they couldn't count it."

A report released yesterday found accounting errors and miscalculations during refining were responsible for the vanishing gold. Now, after a 14-month search, the Crown corporation can say it knows where its gold has gone.

"We can account for all of it - there was no theft," said Christine Aquino, spokeswoman for the Mint.

While offering its mea culpa, the Crown corporation released a list of recommendations to improve its tracking of its gold.

"The additional checks and balances now put in place will allow the Mint to continue to lead the minting industry as well as thrive in the months and years ahead," Mint board chairman James Love said in a statement.

Measures including doubling its count of precious metal stock to four times a year instead of two, adding "more robust accounting measures" and instituting a Metal Comptroller. It also said the refining of all slag by-products will be done internally.

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The Mint admitted it underestimated the gold content in the by-product left after its refining process. As a result, millions of dollars worth of gold were miscounted or sold off to U.S. processors as slag at a fraction of its value.

"We used more gold than we thought in the processing," Ms. Aquino said.

She attributed the problem to the huge increase in gold demand last year, which drove up the Mint's refining business by 250 per cent.

As a result of the bungling, the government confirmed it would withhold discretionary bonuses for 2008 for the Mint's five top executives.

"Despite the explanations I am disappointed that errors have occurred," the Minister of State for Transport, Rob Merrifield, said in a statement.

"In addition, I will continue to require the Mint to report quarterly on inventory status, as well as update me on how they are implementing the processing, accounting and security recommendations put forward by the reviews."

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"I will continue to hold the Mint accountable as they take actions to prevent this situation from reoccurring."

The Mint alerted the RCMP to the missing gold on June 9. The report issued yesterday represented the conclusions of third-party experts, who reviewed the Mint's security and computer systems, technical operations, and accounting going back to 2005.

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