Pink Panther jewelry thief gang suspect extradited to Japan in 2007 robbery

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pink Panther jewelry heist suspect sent to Japan

TOKYO — A suspected member of the storied “Pink Panther” ring of jewel thieves is being extradited to Japan from Spain on accusations he stole a $2 million diamond tiara in Tokyo three years ago, Spain’s Interior Ministry and Japanese media said Saturday.

Rifat Hadziahmetovic, 42, suspected of snatching the tiara and other jewelry from a downtown Tokyo store in 2007, was handed over to Japanese authorities Saturday prior to being transported to Japan, the Spanish ministry said in a statement.

Hadziahmetovic, from the tiny country of Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea, was arrested in Cyprus last year on a separate charge of trying to leave the island using a fake passport.

He was later extradited to Spain over a 2008 robbery on the Spanish island of Tenerife. The Spanish government agreed to hand him over to Japan, the ministry said.

The Pink Panthers, named after the 1963 movie starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, are believed to be mainly from countries in the Balkans.

The gang is believed to have more than 200 members and is characterized by swift robberies lasting less than three minutes, the statement said.

Although its members have not used the weapons they carry with them to each robbery, police consider the gang “very dangerous” and believe many of its members have had military training, the statement said.

The gang is known for the creativity of its heists and has used bicycles to escape from a robbery in the dense traffic of Tokyo and a fast motorboat in southern France.

After one robbery in London, the gang hid a diamond ring worth $1.28 million in a pot of face cream, the statement said. That earned the gang its name, since a similar tactic was used in the film “The Pink Panther.”

They are the prime suspects in a series of jewel thefts worth more than $150 million over the past decade in Europe, Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Some Pink Panther members have already been caught but others are still at large. Hadziahmetovic is suspected of participating in other armed robberies in Bahrain, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

The Pink Panther members are also suspected in a 2004 Tokyo jewelry heist.

Associated Press Writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.

will not be displayed