ROUGH DIAMONDS; the Astonishing Story Behind the PINK PANTHERS Gem Gang Heavies

Article excerpt

Byline: Dennis Ellam

DIAMONDS worth tens of millions of pounds sparkle in velvet-lined cabinets to lure the megarich to the world's swankiest jewellers.

But the stones are also an irresistible temptation for the Pink Panthers, a jaunty nickname for the planet's most feared gang of robbers.

They trace their roots back to the horrific civil war that marked the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Some are even said to be ex-members of Arkan's Tigers, paramilitary Serbs blamed for massacres in Bosnia.

And Interpol believe the gang is still mainly made up of Balkan nationals,

even though their targets today are anywhere the wealthy gather, from Monte Carlo to Tokyo.

In the past 10 years alone the armed gang - who never take more than three minutes to carry out a heist - have struck at least 100 times in 13 countries and netted PS253million.

The gang's military past and criminal present is told in Smash & Grab, a riveting documentary by Havana Marking, who said: "Their planning is impeccable and they nearly always escape.

Infamy

"The story has excitement, history and moral issues, all the elements of a movie. But this is real life."

Smash & Grab has its UK premiere in July - just a few weeks after the Pink Panthers spoilt the party at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

While global attention was fixed on celeb-spotting on the red carpets, a team of Panthers slipped into a hotel opposite the town's main police station.

At 5am, a jeweller got back from a bash to find an entire safe had been hacked from the wall - and with it, PS650,000 worth of gems due to be worn by the likes of Great Gatsby star Carey Mulligan and model Cara Delevingne.

The robbery came almost exactly 10 years after the gang shot to international infamy when they raided Graff's in London in May 2003.

Sporting wigs, posh suits and brollies, two Panthers posed as VIP clients and talked the guards into opening the locked doors for them. Once inside, they pulled a Magnum handgun and carefully chose 47 items worth PS23million.

One of the men escaped on a moped.

But Serb Nebojsa Denic, 43, was overpowered and jailed for 15 years. And fellow Serb Milan Jovetic, 33, later got five years for conspiracy.

Only 20 of the diamonds, valued at PS3million, have ever been recovered.

One was hidden in a tub of facecream, a trick used in the 1975 film Return Of The Pink Panther featuring Peter Sellers as bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

After that, the gang became known as the Pink Panthers.

And they were so proud of the nickname that on their next raid - in Zurich - they wore pink shirts.

As the documentary reveals, the Pink Panthers are probably 200 strong and are based in Montenegro, which has no extradition treaties.

Meticulous, military-style planning is the key to their success.

Agents known as birdwatchers scour the globe looking for targets. The gang's own technical experts will work out how to cripple alarm systems.

And surveillance teams will spend weeks - or even months - casing a joint before a robbery goes ahead.

Perfect

Cops readily admit they are impressed by the thought that goes into each job. …