Alleged 'Pink Panther' members caught in Paris
Two members of the "Pink Panther" gang of international jewel thieves have been arrested in Paris.Paris – Two alleged members of the "Pink Panther" gang of international jewel thieves have been arrested in Paris on suspicion of carrying out armed smash-and-grab raids on stores in Monaco, Switzerland and Germany.
Two Serbs, 36-year-old Nicolai Ivanovic and 38-year-old Zoran Kostic, were arrested on Monday at their discreet hotel in the Pigalle entertainment district of Paris, according to police and judicial officials.
They are being held for carrying false identity documents but are expected to face charges under arrest warrants linking them to a spectacular series of crimes in Mediterranean resorts and Alpine tax havens, they said.
Police described them as "big fish" in the Pink Panthers, a nickname given by British detectives to a network of Balkan robbers blamed for the theft of goods worth EUR 110 million (USD 140 million) in the past decade.
"Everywhere, it's the same tactics, typical of the 'Pinks'," said a French police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They're lightning fast hold-ups: daring, but carefully planned down to smallest detail.
"They're experts in covering their tracks after making their getaway, sending their booty by a variety of international means of delivery, and changing their own transport at will," he explained.
The Serbs were picked up after several days of surveillance following a tip-off to detectives of Paris's anti-organised crime squad.
They are suspected of carrying out raids in the Mediterranean millionaires' playground of Monte Carlo and the chic French Channel resort of Le Touquet, as well as in Germany and the Swiss cities of Lausanne and Geneva.
International officers also hope that the pair can shed light on robberies carried out as far afield as the United States, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, where the Panthers carried out a spectacular heist.
The arrests followed a meeting in Monaco in March of investigators from 16 countries to pool information on the group, thought to be a loose network that shares personnel and tactics rather than a tight-knit gang.
The international police agency Interpol set up a Pink Panther cell in July 2007 to coordinate the campaign against the group, and since then there have been several high-profile arrests.
Two alleged gang members -- a Serb and a Bosnian -- were arrested in Monaco last year on suspicion of preparing a robbery. Three more Serbs were convicted in France in September and sentenced to between six and 15 years in jail.
Police say the Pink Panthers' crimes are meticulously planned and carried out with ruthless professionalism rather than with the debonair panache of the gentlemen jewel thieves in the movies from which they took their name.
British police named them after finding a blue diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, as was the fictional "Pink Panther" gemstone in the 1963 film comedy of the same name starring Peter Sellers and David Niven.
The robbers -- believed to be former members of military and paramilitary militias of the Yugoslav war -- apparently liked the joke, and witnesses have reported them carrying out raids dressed in trademark pink shirts.
"They come in force, smash into the store, smash all the glass cabinets and are gone in a matter of seconds. What makes them unique, and effective, is the precision," Monaco's chief investigator Christophe Haget told AFP last year.
"Nothing is left to chance, especially not their escape plan."
"They conduct careful surveillance of their targets, and adapt perfectly to their environment. In luxury neighbourhoods they travel in chauffeur-driven limousines. In Japan they ride bicycles and wear anti-pollution masks."
Gang members protect their identities by travelling on genuine passports issued to others, making them difficult to track as they dot around the world.
AFP / Expatica