International detectives meet on 'Pink Panther' gang

12th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Over the past decade, this mysterious group of Balkan gangsters has pulled off a daring series of multi-million-euro heists at exclusive addresses in Alpine tax havens, Mediterranean resorts and Gulf monarchies.

Monaco -- Senior police investigators from Europe, Japan and the United Arab Emirates met in Monaco on Wednesday to review the hunt for the notorious Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves.

Over the past decade, this mysterious group of Balkan gangsters has pulled off a daring series of multi-million-euro heists at exclusive addresses in Alpine tax havens, Mediterranean resorts and Gulf monarchies.

Now, detectives from 16 countries are holding two days of talks in Monaco, the Mediterranean playground of the super rich and a favoured target over the years for smash-and-grab raids by criminals from the former Yugoslavia.

"The large number of delegations at the meeting shows how important it is to be on our guard against such an active criminal group, to continue to dismantle it," said Philippe Masseron of Monaco's interior ministry.

The two-day meeting is the third since Interpol set up a Pink Panther cell in July 2007 to coordinate the hunt for a gang blamed for 120 armed robberies and the theft of 110 million euros (140 million dollars) in luxury goods.

Since then, according to Interpol organised crime investigator Emmanuel Leclaire, 30 countries have shared clues on the gang.

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 panache of the gentlemen jewel thieves of the comedy movies from which they took their name.

British police named the gang after finding a blue diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream, like The 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,” Monaco's chief investigator Christophe Haget told AFP last year. “What makes them unique, and effective, is the precision."

"Nothing is left to chance, especially not their escape plan," he explained.

"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.

Sophie Makris/AFP/Expatica

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