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60 Minutes covers ‘Pink Panther’ diamond thieves

March 27, 2014

New York--Last Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes included a segment about the “Pink Panthers,” a network of thieves who have stolen millions in diamonds, and showed footage of some of their biggest robberies. 

The Pink Panthers are the largest, most successful gang of diamonds thieves in the world, 60 Minutes said, and got their moniker from the Peter Sellers crime-comedy movies of the same name. In 2003, after taking note from a scene in one of the movies and hiding stolen stones in a jar of face cream, the police dubbed the group the “Pink Panthers,” and the name stuck and helped them gain notoriety.

According to the show, the group is believed to have conducted more than 370 heists of both jewelry and fine art, grabbing more than $500 million total and hitting more than 35 countries.

The Pink Panthers gang allegedly is made up of networks of teams. Many of them fought in the Serbian Special Forces during the Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992-1995. When UN sanctions prevented products from entering the former Yugoslavia, many of the soldiers also became professional smugglers.

“The problem is that they’ve become legendary because they are so good in their planning and execution of robberies,” Ron Noble, secretary general of Interpol, said on 60 Minutes, adding that they do weeks of surveillance before making a move.

Interpol has been able to identify 800 members of the gang, but since they are known for using fake passports, they are even harder to catch. The group also appears to be leaderless. 

“They’ve got networks and depending upon the robbery, there’s someone who organizes a particular robbery, but there’s no kingpin. There’s no Al Capone or John Gotti at the top of the organized crime groups like classic or traditional organized crime,” Nobel said.

60 Minutes also snagged an interview with a semi-retired Pink Panther, who wouldn’t show his face and went only by the name Phillip.

Their most notorious heists include a robbery of a Graff Diamonds store in the Wafi Mall in Dubai in 2007, when the gang drove straight into the mall and crashed into the door of the store before proceeding to steal $3.5 million in diamonds. 

In another incident in Geneva, a group robbed a luxury store on the Rue du Rhone, grabbing $4 million worth of diamonds, and used motorcycles as their getaway vehicles down a street that was too narrow for cars.

Though the Pink Panthers are known as jewelry thieves, they have begun expanding into fine art. While hundreds of arrests have been made since 2007, the group continues to grow as the next generation is recruited and copycats crimes become more prevalent.