x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai's safe haven for gold defies Ocean's Eleven wannabes

After visiting the gold vaults in the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, it is clear that any aspiring Danny Ocean ought to give this part of the world a wide berth.

The security around the DMCC’s labyrinthian caves of gold bars, silver ingots and bags of precious jewels is enough to make even the most hardened thief go straight. AP Photo / Kamran Jebreili
The security around the DMCC’s labyrinthian caves of gold bars, silver ingots and bags of precious jewels is enough to make even the most hardened thief go straight. AP Photo / Kamran Jebreili

George Clooney makes the traditional heist look pretty doable. With the right people, the right technology and someone to take care of the cameras, the Ocean's Eleven star has proven you can slip in and out of a vault with the swag in about the time it takes to watch a movie. And all without ruffling your hair.

After visiting the gold vaults hidden deep beneath Jumeirah Lakes Towers in the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), though, it is clear that any aspiring Danny Ocean ought to give this part of the world a wide berth.

Just thinking about everything you would have to do to even begin planning a robbery in the DMCC's labyrinthian caves of gold bars, silver ingots and bags of precious jewels, is enough to make even the most hardened thief go straight.

The vault, completed in 2007 and operated by Brink's, is several storeys below ground and one storey below sea level, meaning you would need something akin to an offshore oilrig to drill into it.

Then there are the motion detectors, the cameras, the control rooms, the secret combinations and the fact that the vault is housed on a heavily guarded 80-hectare site operated in its entirety by the DMCC.

Nobody with ill intent is getting anywhere near it.

Even with a phalanx of burly guards and a team of executives from Brink's and the DMCC, just getting down to the big strongroom on an official visit is a complex task.

After descending an unknown number of floors in a secure elevator we passed through the first of many heavily guarded locked doors into a VIP area.

Two gold pillars - painted with real gold leaf - hold up a low ceiling studded with recessed mood lighting. The room, with a highly polished marble floor, is otherwise empty, save for a long counter used for displaying precious stones and bars of gold of the super wealthy VIP customers.

"Its got gold leaf on the pillars," said Gautam Sashittal, the chief operating officer of DMCC, with pride.

"This room is used for very, ultra high net worth individuals, shall we say, or clients who want to view diamonds and other precious things in a secure environment. You come straight through the basement into secure parking, straight into here."

We go through another series of locked doors, that have more in common with metal roll-down shop shutters than the sort of sophisticated security you see depicted on the silver screen.

On the other side we are in what seems to be a loading bay. Before us there is a very small old fashioned strongbox safe with a circular combination lock. Another set of automatic metal doors is raised and we pass through into yet another loading bay. This one, though, is where armoured trucks drop off and collect their precious cargo. Every move we make is monitored by security cameras, vibration and temperature sensors.

We pass through a third and a fourth metal gate. Each one is double controlled, which means no gate can be opened until the previous one is locked and verified by guards in the remotely located control room.

Then we take another lift that takes us even deeper underground to where all the gold and precious stones are stored.

"Now we are below ground and we are actually below sea level," said Mr Constain.

"As you know once you are below sea level it is very difficult to drill. The pressure difference affects the process. Brink's designed this vault. It is one of the top five most secure vaults in the world and is certainly the most complex and most secure facility in the Middle East I would say," he added.

One of the most fascinating things about the ultra secure safe is a 2-foot wide path that runs right around the perimeter and over the top of the structure. It is a box within a box, so if anyone does manage to drill in from under the sea you would see the bit in open air before it pierces the vault wall.

The lift to the vault can hold five tonnes and is frequently filled to capacity. Once we are down a whole team of security experts are called upon to open the door.

"To go inside the vault we need one person in the control room, a supervisor, who has one of the combinations of the locks and the operations people here to have two combinations of the vaults. So we need three persons with combinations to actually open the door of the vault," Mr Constain said.

We are then told to remove all mobile phones, switch them off and turn off all recording devices. We also have to turn our backs while the security guard enters one of the three combinations to open the door.

Once inside the vault, it is a little underwhelming. The strong room is a large virtually empty concrete box. At the time of our visit there were three palettes each containing a tonne of silver. The silver was cast into 33kg bars.

Alongside them were a couple of dozen coloured cloth bags each one filled with gold bars and sealed at the top with a plastic tag. Each of the gold bars weighs a kilo.

There were four large metal cages filled with bags of expensive jewellery, each bag with a plastic tag seal on it. The jewellery is either stored for safe keeping or is used as collateral for loans - like a very posh pawnshop.

A line of locked cabinets at the back of the gold vault are filled with expensive watches. And it is then that I realise I am in. I didn't need Danny Ocean and his fancy Hollywood planning after all, just a plausible manner and a business card.

So what would happen if I tried to make off with one of the bags of gold?

"We do not carry guns in Dubai, but let us say you would not get very far," said one Brinks' official who must remain nameless for security reasons. "You would get as far as that door and it would be closed and locked automatically and you would still be in here."

It seems there is still a flaw in my plan for an elaborate bullion heist. Perhaps I won't be the inspiration for Ocean's 14 after all.

 

jdoran@thenational.ae