Pink Panthers Interpol Poster
|Founding location||Gusinje, Montenegro|
|Criminal activities||Robbery, art theft|
Named after The Pink Panther series of crime comedy films, Pink Panthers is the name given by Interpol to an international jewel thief network, composed mainly of ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins, which is responsible for some of the most audacious thefts in criminal history. They are responsible for what have been termed some of the most glamorous heists ever, and one criminologist even described their crimes as "artistry". They have targeted several countries and continents, and include Japan's most successful robbery ever amongst their thefts. A film documentary based upon their thefts, Smash & Grab, was released in 2013.
Some law enforcement agencies suspect that the group is responsible for over US$500 million in bold robberies in Dubai, Switzerland, Japan, France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Monaco. Law enforcement suspect their involvement in the robbery of the jewellery store Harry Winston in Paris, on 9 December 2008. The thieves escaped with more than €80 million worth of jewellery.
Interpol has said it estimates that there are several hundred thieves in the group, and that many come from Serbia. However, other sources say the gang is suspected of having at least sixty members, around thirty of whom are thought to be from Montenegro. Several gang members are former soldiers with violent pasts. They are fluent in many different languages and possess passports which have been given to others.
In 1993, the gang first came to attention and earned the nickname "Pink Panthers" following the theft of a £500,000 diamond from a jewellers in the Mayfair area of central London in the United Kingdom. The thieves hid the diamond in a jar containing face cream, mimicking an act seen in the film The Return of the Pink Panther. In May 2005, Graff, a diamond specialist in London, was targeted by Pink Panthers and lost a total of £1 million in jewellery. Three men were suspected of being behind the theft; one was in possession of a firearm. Graff had been targeted in 2002 and lost £23 million on that occasion, £ 3 million of which was recovered two years later. One of the thieves was sentenced to fifteen years in prison in July 2004.
In the space of six years during the twenty-first century, the Pink Panthers robbed 120 stores in twenty different countries. Japan, London, Denmark, Monaco, Paris, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have all been targeted by the gang. Their attention to detail has ensured this high rate of success. Before robbing a jewellery store in Biarritz, the gang covered a nearby bench in fresh paint to deter anyone from sitting on it and seeing them in action.
The gang is suspected of participating in at least two smash-and-grab jewellery robberies in Tokyo's Ginza district. The first, in 2004, netted ¥3.5 million in gems. The second, in June 2007, took jewellery valued at ¥284 million. In that heist, Rifat Hadziahmetovic and Radovan Jelusic sprayed tear gas at three saleswomen then took a tiara, necklaces, and other jewels and fled the store (see below for details of their subsequent arrest).
The gang is also known for its daring escapes and attempts to break into their chosen store. They robbed a jewellery store in Saint-Tropez in 2005 wearing T-shirts emblazoned with flowery designs then made their escape on a speed boat. Prior to one 2008 robbery of Graff jewellers in Dubai, eight gang members drove a pair of Audis through a window, taking watches and other items worth a total of £8 million. In a further robbery, four gang members dressed themselves up as women in December 2008 before breaking into France's Harry Winston jewellers in Paris. The gang escaped from the store with items worth over US$100 million (£60 million). There is growing speculation that the US$65 million heist on 6 August 2009 of an exclusive London jewellery store was the work of the same group. A key element in the speculation is that the men who looted Graff Diamonds on New Bond Street made no effort to hide their faces, suggesting that they had been able to alter their looks with "Mission Impossible" style prosthetic make-up.
In 2013, the gang was suspected to have struck again when a man wearing a ball cap and a scarf covering his face broke into the Carlton Hotel in Cannes and made off with US$136 million worth of diamonds, gems, and jewelry being stored by the Leviev diamond house for an exhibit (see Carlton Intercontinental Hotel heist). Nice-Matin speculated that this may have been the most costly jewelry theft in history.
Arrests and breakouts
In 2005, two men and one woman gang member from Serbia were arrested in Belgrade. In October 2007, they were sentenced to jail terms by a court in Serbia for the theft of the Comtesse de Vendome necklace, worth approximately £15 million (US$30 million), from a Tokyo jewellery boutique, in what was Japan's biggest ever jewel robbery in March 2004. The gang leader was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment while the other two were handed lesser sentences.
Three Pink Panthers from Serbia were declared guilty of robberies carried out in Biarritz, Cannes, Courchevel and Saint-Tropez by one court in Chambéry in 2008. Two were given jail-terms of six and ten years.
One suspect in a June 2007 Ginza heist, a Montenegrin-national named Rifat Hadziahmetovic, travelling on a forged Bulgarian passport, was arrested in March 2009 by Cypriot police at Larnaca International Airport. He is due to serve a sentence in Cyprus for travelling on a forged passport before being extradited to Spain. He was extradited from Spain to Japan and, in September 2011, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His accomplice, Radovan Jelusic, was arrested in Italy in 2010 over a separate crime, then was extradited to Montenegro to stand trial on 18 May 2012.
On 20 June 2009, French police in Monte Carlo detained another three members of the gang seen loitering near jewellery shops in Monaco. The gang members drove up outside a casino in Casino Square on 18 June 2009. The men were told to lie down and were then handcuffed before being whisked away from the scene quickly.
One of the three arrested, Dragan Mikić, is of special interest to the police investigation. He is from Serbia and is on the Interpol's "Most Wanted" list, possibly being a senior member of the Pink Panthers. Mikić has been on the run since 2005 after breaking out of jail via a ladder whilst other people fired machine guns at the prison.
A head figure of the Pink Panthers, Mitar Marjanovic, was arrested on 8 March 2012 in Rome, after two of his accomplices in a bank robbery, committed a month earlier, dropped stolen items containing Marjanovic's fingerprints.
On 14 March 2012, three more members of the gang were arrested in Athens, Greece. Two of the three were male Serbians, aged 20 and 36, and were arrested while reconnoitering a jewellery store robbery. Patrolling police were prompted to question them due to their wearing wigs. The two men fled and the 36-year-old fired and injured a police officer during the pursuit that followed. Both were arrested and led the police to the arrest of the third person, a 43-year-old Serbian female, Olivera Vasić Ćirković. On 12 July 2012 Olivera escaped from Athens' prison by knocking out a female guard and stealing her keys.
On 14 May 2013, a member of the gang escaped from the "Bois-Mermet" prison in Lausanne, Switzerland. He hasn't yet been caught. He escaped with the help of 3 outside accomplices who meticulously prepared the operation. Four other prisoners got away at the same time. On 25 July 2013, Milan Poparic, who was serving a sentence of almost seven years for a 2009 robbery at a jewellery store, was the third Pink Panther to escape from a Swiss prison since May 2013. Also escaping was Swiss kidnapper, arsonist and money launderer Adrian Albrecht. They were helped out of the prison at Orbe, in western Switzerland, by accomplices who broke through the perimeter fence and brought ladders for the escapees while keeping the prison guards at bay with fire from AK-47s.
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