When the name “Pink Panther” is mentioned, there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t immediately associate it with the comedy-mystery films featuring the French police detective Inspector Jacques Clouseau, portrayed by Peter Sellers, and the large pink diamond that is first shown in the opening film of the series named “Pink Panther.”
However, Interpol is one of the few that have a rather different association when this name is mentioned. Reportedly, they gave this name to an international jewel-thief network composed of Serbs from the Balkans–Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia–responsible for some of the most infamous thefts in criminal history.
The Pink Panthers are responsible for some of the most glamorous robberies to date, with their crimes even being described as “artistry” by one criminologist. They have targeted several countries and continents where they perform their master planned thefts.8 Some law enforcement agencies suspect that the group is responsible for over $500 million in gold robberies in Dubai, Switzerland, Japan, France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Spain, and Monaco. They’re also suspected of involvement in the robbery of the jewelry store Harry Winston in Paris in 2008, when thieves escaped with more than $80 million euros worth of jewelry.
The anecdote about the name of the gang reveals one of their popular thefts, more precisely, stealing a fortune from jewelers in Mayfair, London, and hiding it in a jar of face cream. This tactic was copied from an act seen in the 1963 film The Return of The Pink Panther. The film’s title refers to the name of a stolen diamond whose center, when viewed closely, is said to resemble a leaping pink panther. Apparently, they were inspired by the original film in which the diamond is the most expensive gem in the world, and was hidden in the same way.
The Pink Panther gangsters are educated, believed to come from the former Yugoslavia region, have changed multiple identities as well as passports, and speak several languages. Most of them never get caught, but three Serbian men were caught by the police in France. They were later found guilty of organized armed robbery in Cannes, Courchevel and Saint Tropez in 2001 and 2003, in which they stole more than $5 million worth of luxurious gems.
The judge of the court of Chambery said in the summing up of his verdict, “We’re dealing with hardened, professional delinquents. They are almost all intelligent, but when one is intelligent, why follow the path of easy money?” He handed down six-year and ten-year sentences while the group’s leader, who is currently on the run, was sentenced in absentia to 15 years.
The “artistry” of the criminals can be seen in their attention to detail and impeccably planned heists. For example, in one of their robberies, they applied fresh paint to a bench that was opposite their targeted jewelry store to prevent any witnesses from sitting there. Also, wearing touristy T-shirts, the gang members casually strolled around Saint-Tropez before entering the Julian jewelers and stealing gems and then getting away on a motorboat. Lastly, eight of the Pink Panthers crashed two limousines into the front window of a luxurious shopping mall in Dubai, breaking into the Graff jewelers. The operation didn’t take more than a minute and the gang stole $11 million in gems and watches.
One of the gang’s favorite destinations is Monaco, with a police chief, Christophe Haget, who said, “Their cold determination is only matched by their highly meticulous mode of operation.”
According to Interpol, the Pink Panthers have stolen over 330 million euros’ worth of goods since 1999. Catching the Pink Panther gang has never been an easy task, because their criminal network doesn’t have a firm structure for Interpol to target. Interpol officials and even criminals agree that the gang is a conglomeration of a few separate gangs.