The Pink Panther Gang!
Pink Panthers is the name Interpol has given an infamous network of international jewelry thieves. The crime organization consists of members from the former Yugoslavia, and is responsible for some of the most glamorous and spectacular thefts ever. The Panthers are believed to have pulled of over 150 robberies all over the world, with an estimated value of over 500 million $, often using young attractive women in their operations. Even though international law enforcement has targeted the group, and arrested several members, the Panthers are still very much active.
The majority of the gang’s associates are Serbian, mainly from the city of Niš, but they have also recruited from neighbouring states like Montenegro, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Croatia and other parts of the Balkans. Many of the members have a military past in the bloody Yugoslav Wars from the 1990’s, and they have used their expertise to carry out dazzling robberies in such diverse places as Dubai, Monte Carlo, Zürich, Paris, London and Tokyo. Their targets are usually luxury jewellery stores, and even experienced criminologists are impressed by the skill and attention to detail in their heists. The group can use several weeks in the planning of a robbery, but the operation itself usually takes under 90 seconds.
Bojana Mitic and Snezana Panajotovic, 2 of the young women working for the Pink Panthers
The first major job by the network was in 1993, when they stole a diamond worth £ 500,000 from a store in London. Just like in the 1975 movie “The Return of the Pink Panther”, the criminals hid the diamond in a jar containing face cream, and it was this move that earned them the name Pink Panthers. In 2005 they walked into a jewelery store in Saint-Tropez dressed-up as tourists wearing Hawaii shirts, and escaped on a speedboat. In 2008 they hit the Harry Winston store in Paris, and managed to escape with items worth 100 million dollars after having dressed up as women. Another example of their boldness was when they drove two stolen Audi 8s through a store window in Dubai, stealing watches and other items for over 10 million dollars in only 50 seconds. The Panthers also have the record for Japan’s biggest jewelry heist ever, after taking valuables for around 30 million dollars in 2004.
The spectacular robbery of a Dubai Jewellery by the Panthers
Some of the gangs arrested members have also been able to escape from prison in spectacular fashion. Olivera Ćirković (former female basketball player for Red Star Belgrade) escaped from a Greek prison this summer after a friend had knocked out a guard, and they both drove away on a motorcycle. Dragan Mikić, one of the leaders of the network, escaped from a prison in France by going down a ladder while accomplices were covering him with machine guns. He is famous for having said he didn’t care if he got caught, cause he knew he would be able to escape again. A french prosecutor described the Panters in these words : “They’re still young, they aren’t scared; they usually have ten different names and they’re always ready for anything.
Police arresting a member of the Pink Panthers
The Pink Panthers try to keep a low profile though. They don’t use flashy clothes or drive fancy cars, but try to blend in as much as possible. Because of the large Yugoslav diaspora, they have powerful supporters across the whole of Europe. Criminals from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Croatia and Albania have put aside the fierce nationalistic ideologies that caused the Yugoslav wars in the 90s, concentrating instead on the only thing that matters to them : Money. They cooperate in hiding from the authorities, and with fake passports and new names, and an environment with similar culture and language, it is easy to adjust.
The way of the Yugoslav mafia from the 1980s, that had a base in Frankfurt, Germany has been substituted for a more sophisticated and smarter way. The ruthless and violent style used by later war criminals such as Zeljko Raznatovic “Arkan”and “Joca Amsterdam” wouldn’t work in todays modern world. Interpol has increased its efforts in catching the leaders of the network though, and due to recent arrests, the group has been forced to slow down. The 23 Austrian goldsmiths that the Panthers are credited of robbing just this year, tells us they are still very much a threat to luxury stores around the world!
The Godfather of the Serbian (Yugoslav) underground in the 80-90s Zeljko Raznatovic “Arkan”