Alleged 'Pink Panther' pleads guilty to Monaco heist

2016-01-11 22:40


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Monaco - An alleged member of the infamous "Pink Panther" gang of jewel thieves went on trial on Monday, pleading guilty to holding up a Monaco jewellery shop in 2007.

Nicolai Ivanovic, 42, of Montenegro is being tried without his presumed accomplice, Zoran Kostic, a compatriot who is in jail in France and considered a likely leader of the Pink Panther gang.

The duo allegedly robbed the store in a high-end Monaco shopping gallery at gunpoint, making off with 32 Audemars Piguet luxury watches, as well as the watch of a footballer who was caught up in the heist.

The total haul was estimated to be worth more than €460 000. 

They left in a stolen car that was found a month later not far from the principality in southeastern France.

The two men were arrested in Paris nearly two years later, in May 2009.

There had been several international arrest warrants out for them, including from Switzerland, Monaco and Montenegro.

Investigators suspected them of involvement in jewellery store heists in Monaco and the two northern French towns of Le Touquet and Rouen, as well as in Germany and Switzerland.

Ivanovic on Monday admitted to the heist in Monaco, saying the watches had been sold in Milan for about €200 000.

The Pink Panthers emerged from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s to become the world's most successful jewel thieves.

They gained their nickname with a raid on a London branch of Graff Diamonds in 2003, in which two of them posed as wealthy would-be customers, persuading staff to open doors for them before helping themselves to diamonds worth millions.

Although one of the robbers was overpowered at the scene and another later arrested, only a fraction of the diamonds were recovered, one of them hidden in a pot of face cream.

That was reminiscent of a scene from the 1975 film The Return of the Pink Panther and resulted in a nickname that the gang members themselves adopted, wearing pink shirts for a subsequent raid in Zurich.

But Ivanovic claimed to have acted on his own account.

"I don't know the Pink Panthers, that doesn't exist," he told the court. "I don't have a boss," said the defendant, who is already serving three jail terms in France.

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