Interpol Hunts Bold Pink Panthers Gem Gang
150-member crew pulls off fast, stunning ripoffs
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser User
Posted Aug 24, 2010 2:46 AM CDT
Rifat Hadziahmetovic of Montenegro, 42, is a suspected member of the Pink Pathers. He was busted in 2007 after a multi-million-dollar tiara and other jewelry was stolen in downtown Tokyo.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

(Newser) – Frustrated Interpol investigators are coming up empty in their frantic bid to shut down the "Pink Panther" gem gang, responsible for the most brazen jewel heists in history, from nervy ripoffs of super luxe Paris gem stores to cool grabs in Monte Carlo. "They are very well organized and they know exactly what they are after," one official tells the Guardian. The gang originated in the former Yugoslavia and now includes heisters from throughout the Balkans, including men once active in various strong-armed governments. Police believe the gang has some 150 members and has been operating since the 1990s.

So far no one has been killed in the robberies but the thieves have ripped off countless millions of dollars in jewels in jobs that usually last less than three minutes. Some thieves have been arrested (with some busted out of prison in submachinegun police battles), but investigators are struggling to figure out how the gems are fenced, despite a recent three-day brainstorming session in Switzerland involving 100 detectives from 20 nations. The sophisticated crooks stay discreet when mixing with the law-abiding, keep their mouths shut and dress in suits. "We all come from normal families," one crook told an investigator. "Our parents are normal people. They are not in this kind of life."