Spain extradites alleged 'Pink Panther' member to Japan

14th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Montenegrin alleged member of the "Pink Panther" gang of international jewel thieves was extradited to Japan from Spain on Saturday over a 2007 robbery in Tokyo, Spanish police said.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic, 42, who had been taken into custody over other charges in Spain, arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport Saturday afternoon, police said in a statement, describing him as Japan's most-wanted fugitive.

The suspect and another "Pink Panther" member allegedly stole a diamond tiara worth 200 million yen (2.3 million dollars) and other gems from a jewellery store in Tokyo's upmarket Ginza district on June 14, 2007.

The robbers fled the scene on bicycles.

Hadziahmetovic was arrested in Cyprus in 2009 on a European warrant over the theft of luxury watches worth 600,000 euros (765,000 dollars) in Spain, to where he was transferred. Japan then sought his extradition.

Japanese police will question Hadziahmetovic over the Tokyo robbery before sending him to prosecutors and a district court.

Although Japan and Spain have not concluded an extradition treaty, the Spanish government earlier agreed to hand him over to Japan at the request of Japanese authorities.

The other suspect in the Tokyo heist, Radovan Jelusic, 39, 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.

Hadziahmetovic's arrest is seen as the latest in a series of high-profile police successes against the Pink Panther gang, a once seemingly untouchable alliance 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 worldwide over the past decade.

In Japan, it is thought also to have stolen 3.5 billion yen worth of gem products from another Ginza jewellery shop in 2004, local media reported.

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

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