July 19, 2010

Pink Panthers strike again

ENTERTAINMENT - Okay technically the Pink Panther was the name of the diamond stolen by The Phantom several times within the film series, but British newspapers have dubbed a team of jewel thieves from Montenegro which have struck in London, Paris, Tokyo, Dubai and have thus far stolen over $250 million USD worth of jewelry.

One of the members, Milan Jovetic, was caught 7 years ago with a diamond worth $1 million USD hidden in his girlfriend's jar of face cream, like Lady Claudine hid the diamond in the film "The Return of the Pink Panther". The British press had fun with that and the name Pink Panthers has stuck ever since.

Milan Jovetic helped rob London's Graff store on New Bond Street of $30 million worth of diamonds.

Since then a pattern of high profile jewelry heists have caused Interpol to set up “Project Pink Panthers” in an effort to catch the jewel thieves. They are investigating 190 incidents in 27 countries across 4 continents.

Jovetic was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison of which he served four. He is now back in Montenegro and something of a celebrity. He won't even talk to reporters unless they're paying him.

Supporters of the Pink Panthers compare them to Robin Hood and note that while they do sometimes carry guns, they have never killed or even shot at anyone. They've been on the run since the late 1990s and most of them have managed to avoid getting caught.

Interpol believes there is about 40 members of the Pink Panthers, but only 25 arrests have ever been made in recent years. There's also been about 400 people investigated as being accomplices or lackeys. Most of the members come from Montenegro or Serbia and are affiliated with Balkan crime syndicates.

Their robbery tactics are much simpler than the cat-burglar tactics used by The Phantom in The Return of the Pink Panther".

Typically a well-dressed man distracts the clerk (often by pointing a gun at them) while a team smashes jewelry casings and loots the place before they flee in stolen cars.

In Tokyo in 2004 they wore wigs, pepper-sprayed the clerk and stole a $27 million diamond necklace.

Last December three members, two men and a woman, were convicted for stealing $31.5 million worth of jewels, including an 125-carat necklace. The jewelry however was never found.

Its believed the group is contracted by someone within a large diamond corporation which is able to fence the jewelry without raising suspicion. The diamonds can be recut and reshaped making them easier to sell.

During a 2007 heist in Dubai two cars drove into a lobby of the Wafi shopping mall and backed into a jewelry store window, grabbing approx. $3.5 million worth of jewels. The incident was caught on a cellphone camera.

Dubai police later arrested 8 suspects, but the Pink Panthers continues to operate under a code of silence making it difficult to get convictions.

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