Germany bringing gold home from France, U.S.

Bars of gold are piled up to show

Bars of gold are piled up to show reporters during a news conference at the federal bank in Frankfurt, as Germany repatriates gold it had stored abroad during the Cold War. (Jan. 16, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

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In what sounds like the setup for a stylish Hollywood heist movie, Germany is transferring nearly 700 tons of gold bars worth $36 billion from Paris and New York to its vaults in Frankfurt.

 The move is part of an effort by Germany's central bank to bring much of its gold home after keeping big reserves outside the country for safekeeping during the Cold War.

Shipping such a large amount of valuable cargo between countries could be a serious security headache. A gold robbery -- the subject of such movies as "Die Hard 3" and "The Italian Job" -- would be embarrassing and expensive for Germany.

The high-stakes, high-security plan is to move the precious metal -- 374 tons kept in vaults in Paris and 300 tons stored at the New York Federal Reserve Bank -- to the Bundesbank in Germany's financial center over the next eight years.

For obvious reasons, the central bank won't say whether the estimated 50,000 bars are being moved by air, sea or land or how it intends to keep the shipments safe.

"For security reasons we can't discuss that, partly to protect the gold, partly to protect the staff that will be carrying out the transfer," said Bundesbank spokesman Moritz August Raasch.

"But, of course, since we transport large sums of money around Germany every day, we've got a certain amount of experience with this."

The Bundesbank, which also brought home about 850 tons of gold from London between 1998 and 2001, isn't taking any chances. "Of course the transports are insured," Raasch said.

During the Cold War, Germany kept most of its gold abroad for fear it could fall into the hands of the Soviet Union if the country were invaded.

Another reason was to have the precious metal close to the foreign currency markets in London, Paris and New York, where gold is traded.

Since France, like Germany, switched to the euro more than a decade ago, storing gold for foreign currency swaps in Paris is no longer necessary, the Bundesbank said.

Once the shipment is complete, Frankfurt will hold half of Germany's 3,400 tons of reserve gold -- currently worth about $183 billion -- with New York retaining 37 percent and London 13 percent.

The cargo unit of Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, is ready to handle the job if the central bank calls, spokesman Michael Goentgens said.

"Overall, it must be said that the transport over land is the riskiest part. Flying is safer than driving, and an airport is already a heavily secured area."

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