Japan indicts Montenegrin alleged 'Pink Panther' jewel thief
Japanese prosecutors on Friday indicted a Montenegrin alleged member of the "Pink Panther" gang of international jewellery thieves over a robbery three years ago in Tokyo.
Rifat Hadziahmetovic, whom Japanese police have described as the nation's most-wanted fugitive, was last month extradited to Japan from Spain, where he had been taken into custody over other charges.
Tokyo prosecutors alleged that he "robbed a jewellery store in Tokyo of two items, including a tiara, worth 284 million yen (3.37 million dollars)", according to an official statement.
In the heist at Tokyo's upmarket Ginza district on June 14, 2007, Hadziahmetovic and another "Pink Panther" member allegedly sprayed tear gas at store clerks, stole the jewellery and fled on bicycles.
Hadziahmetovic's arrest is seen as the latest in a series of high-profile police successes against the Pink Panthers, a once seemingly untouchable band of thieves drawn from paramilitary circles in the former Yugoslavia.
The smash-and-grab crime group is known to have stolen jewellery worth hundreds of millions of dollars in nearly 30 countries over the past decade.
The group is also thought to have stolen 3.5 billion yen worth of gem products from another Ginza jewellery shop in 2004.
Hadziahmetovic, in his early 40s, was arrested in Cyprus in 2009 on a European warrant over the theft of luxury watches worth 600,000 euros (769,000 dollars) in Spain, to where he was transferred.
Japan then sought his extradition.
The other suspect in the Tokyo heist, Radovan Jelusic, was arrested in Rome in May in possession of a forged Croatian passport. He was wanted in Cyprus, Japan and several other countries, Interpol said.
The gang was given its name after British detectives found a diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, echoing an incident in the 1963 comedy film "Pink Panther", starring Peter Sellers.
© 2010 AFP